As Merrill Lynch begins to roll out a new single platform for its managed accounts, the conversion will usher in a change that Lorna Sabbia, head of the firm’s Managed Solutions Group, has been hearing advisors request for 18 years.

That change will allow the firm’s 16,000 plus financial advisor force to use a single fee arrangement regardless of which of the firm’s platforms the client is invested in. Currently, there is a different fee structure for clients on the separately managed accounts platform, mutual fund wrap program, rep as portfolio manager program, rep as advisor program and unified managed account platform.

“This is something that the industry has struggled with for 18 years,” Sabbia said of the managed account platforms that date back to 1989 and have since evolved into five distinct platforms. “With this new innovation, we’re taking the opportunity to fix it.”

Now, instead of going to five different websites to find out how the client’s total portfolio is performing, advisors can turn to a single website.

The change also means that advisors can use one contract instead of five and can consolidate the reports generated from five to one, according to Sabbia.

The new platform will be available to a limited number of the firm’s advisors and their services staffs starting in September, accounting for up to 250 employees. Merrill Lynch is scheduled to begin a broader roll out of the consolidated platform later this year that will gradually expand to all of its 11 markets. The firm is giving all of its advisors until the end of 2015 to adopt the new platform, when it will sunset the five preceding platforms.

The biggest result of the change will be for advisors, Sabbia said, who often have to toggle the five platforms to complete the services requested by clients.

“I give a lot of credit to our advisors, because they continue to deliver a seamless experience to the client,” Sabbia said. “But advisors lose a lot of efficiency of their time because we’ve built in silos.”

Mary Mullin, a Boston-based financial advisor who has been with Merrill Lynch for 33 years, said the change has resulted in sighs of relief from her support staff, who eagerly anticipate starting to use the platform.

Mullin focuses on serving individual private clients, many of whom have $1 million or more in investable assets. This new platform will mean more transparency for clients, Mullin said, with just one fee schedule. Now, she said, advisors no longer have to manually calculate and combine fees for different platforms.

Mullin, who was involved with giving feedback to the firm as they developed the platform, said she looks forward to it making her work easier and more streamlined.

“What it’s going to do is make everything more simple for the client,” said Mullin. It also gives advisors “the ability for us to be a little more nimble to make the right changes for the client portfolio without having to repaper everything. It’s going to give us a lot of flexibility to be tactical with a client when we need to.”

Merrill Lynch is prepared to continue to modify the platform as advisors identify what they want added to it or what they see missing, Sabbia said. The important thing about the initiative is that it addresses an industry-wide issue in which multiple separate platforms have evolved over time, and consolidating the data from them all is expensive and difficult. Merrill Lynch is spending more than $!00 million on this consolidation project.

“The reason why not everyone is doing them is it’s hard to do. You literally have to open up every decision you’ve ever made going back to 1989, redebate it under this regulatory environment, and land the plane That’s half of it,” Sabbia said. “The other half of it is you need a ton of money to do it.”

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