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Merrill Lynch advisors notch record client acquisition

Merrill Lynch financial advisors notched a record 17,625 client relationships for the first quarter, boosting gross new household acquisition by 41% year-over-year, according to the company.

The firm’s advisors have been incentivized by the company’s compensation plan to bring in more clients. At the same time, executives have built more bridges between Merrill Lynch and parent Bank of America’s other business units. Their efforts are bearing fruit: 11% of new client relationships — about 1,900 — came via referrals from other parts of Bank of America.

To reinforce that strategy, the bank has plans to bring in 300 Merrill Edge financial solutions advisors in Merrill Lynch branches. “The clients they serve tend to be younger, mass affluent, and they tend to be very connected to the consumer bank,” Andy Sieg told On Wall Street in an interview in mid-April.

Sieg said the move should be mutually beneficial. “It’ll facilitate growth going forward because, as Merrill Lynch advisors win new clients and those clients have kids with more foundational needs, the FSAs will be relevant to those clients,” he says.

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Bank of America reported $13.4 billion in net client flows for its wealth management unit, which includes Merrill Lynch, Merrill Edge and its private bank, formerly known as U.S. Trust. That figure is down from $24.2 billion for the year-ago period, but up from net outflows of $6.1 billion for the period quarter, according to the company.

Client balances at Merrill Lynch rose to $2.4 trillion from $2.2 trillion for the year-ago period.

The firm says the average size of a new Merrill Lynch household has been constant at approximately $1.5 million.

Merrill Lynch plans to boost headcount, which stood at 14,761 advisors for the first quarter, down less than 1% year-over-year, according to the company. The wirehouse has been experiencing low advisor attrition as have UBS and Morgan Stanley. In recent years, the three firms cut back on recruiting efforts that were traditionally aimed at each other’s brokerage forces. Wells Fargo, meanwhile, has suffered from attrition since a fake accounts scandal and other regulatory issues rocked the bank in recent years.

UBS and Morgan Stanley have yet to report earnings.

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