Bank of America Merrill Lynch will double the ranks of what it calls its Financial Solutions Advisors by year's end.

Company officials said it plans to hire more than 500 FSAs, who serve its “preferred” customers, managing their banking and investment needs and better controlling their finances. That will bring the total number of advisors in the year-old FSA program to more than 1,000.

The preferred customers BofA is targeting have between $50,000 and $250,000 of investable assets -- one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry -- but a profile that’s not right for full-service financial advisors or private-banking relationships, says Cary Grace, a preferred sales executive at Bank of America.

“But they’re still at the point where they want guidance and want to feel more in control of their financial life,” she said.

The FSAs are fully securities-licensed and receive banking and investment training from Bank of America. The recruiting goal is aimed at expanding what started as a phone center-based operation. Over the past two quarters, more of the new recruits have been stationed within banking centers and that will continue, Grace said.

Feedback from preferred customers indicates that face-to-face interaction is still very important, Grace added.

Why is BofA so interested in clients with relatively modest wealth?

Because there are a lot of them (8 million investors, according to BofA) and they have total assets worth more than $5 trillion, she said, and retail brokers such as Fidelity and Charles Schwab are also gunning for this lucrative segment.

Preferred customers want a better retirement than their parents, want access to both banking and investing solutions and need the ability to track and manage their money, according to Bank of America’s Merrill Edge Report, a semi-annual study.

The FSAs represent Merrill Edge, the platform built to combine the banking strength of BofA and the investment insights of Merrill Lynch. Merrill Edge customers can choose to either do self-directed investing or invest with the guidance of an FSA.

The FSAs will be located in select banking centers nationwide, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte and Washington, D.C. By year’s end, they will be found in nearly 500 branches, says Grace.

BofA has also been going after the preferred customer segment by introducing “specialty stores” that offer in-person access to investment, small-business and mortgage specialists and feature technologies such as video conferencing.

The bank has been working with its branch personnel to better identify and refer these coveted preferred prospects, says Grace.

“The vast majority of these customers will do some type of transaction with us weekly, monthly or quarterly,” she said. “We’re been doing a much better job of probing around their needs.”






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