Online Q&A On Financial Advisor Careers
Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is the wealth management division of Bank of America. The firm is headquartered in New York City, and occupies the entire 34 stories of the Four World Financial Center building in Manhattan. Merrill Lynch employs over 15,000 financial advisors and manages $2.2 trillion in client assets.
The firm has its origins in Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. which, prior to 2009, was publicly owned and traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol MER. Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed to be acquired by Bank of America on September 14, 2008, at the height of the 2008 Financial Crisis. The acquisition was completed in January 2009 and Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. was merged into Bank of America Corporation in October 2013, although certain Bank of America subsidiaries continue to carry the Merrill Lynch name, including the broker-dealer Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.
Arnold: How is a financial advisor’s compensation determined?
Merrill Lynch: Compensation for a Financial Advisor is a combination of both current cash payments and longer-term deferred vehicles. The cash payments are based on a “grid,” which is determined by factors such as transaction size, product type, and the Financial Advisor’s length of service (LOS). The “grid rate” is the percentage of the total commission that is paid to the Financial Advisor. Longer-term deferred vehicles include equity grants to eligible Financial Advisors, a growth award based on the year-over-year increase in a Financial Advisor’s business, and a 401(k) program. Our new Financial Advisor Compensation Program is aligned with our business strategy, and it rewards Financial Advisors for implementing solutions that address their clients’ best interests. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Whats: What does it take to be a financial advisor? What are the career prospects?
Merrill Lynch: Advisors should have a minimum of three to five years of professional experience, including sales experience, and an entrepreneurial spirit. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Olivia: I live in Sydney, Australia. Is there a market here for Financial Advisors? Where is the prime market for Financial Advisors? Is it New York City?
Merrill Lynch: Check the Merrill Lynch Web site, for opportunities abroad. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Kimberly: Do you need a degree? If so, what do you recommend?
Merrill Lynch: It is not required, but we prefer you to have a Bachelor’s Degree. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Whats: If you have a son or daughter, would you advise them to go down this track? If so, why?
Merrill Lynch: Absolutely! This opportunity is very attractive to individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit who have strong relationship-building skills and enjoy the sales component of the job. The Financial Advisor position can be extremely rewarding, both professionally and personally. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
K. Harvey: Does Merrill Lynch hire the inexperienced?
Merrill Lynch: The ideal candidate would have a minimum of 3 to 5 years of business experience. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
K. Harvey: How do I go about obtaining the licenses necessary for me to become a Financial Planner?
Merrill Lynch: To become a Certified Financial Planner, you may enroll in one of a number of different courses offered by both major universities, as well as smaller institutions sponsoring this designation. Merrill Lynch reimburses employees for the tuition costs associated with the Certified Financial Planner designation. — Mollie, Director, Financial Advisor Training
Ken: I have 13 years of sales experience. For the past 11 years, I have been in advertising, sales, and sales management for a major business and financial publishing organization. I’m very familiar with the financial industry and comfortable with investing and planning considerations. However, I’ve never sold financial services. Do you feel this is a background that might work well for this career?
Merrill Lynch: Absolutely. Your sales skills from your previous work experiences will be extremely helpful to you and your knowledge of the financial services industry, as well. You will have to give some thought to market segmentation; in other words, what area of the marketplace you can best ‘connect’ with utilizing your experience and established networks. But you are well positioned to become a successful financial advisor. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Blue Sky: What branch locations are recruiting employees in the Southern California area?
Merrill Lynch: We are always looking for quality candidates. It is best that you visit our Careers Web Site, post your resume, and specify the office(s) that interest you. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Larry: What makes Merrill Lynch’s products and services stand out from the products and services offered by other financial services firms?
Merrill Lynch: There are many fine firms in our industry. Our distinct advantage is the comprehensive suite of services we can offer to our clients. Some firms in our industry focus on a specific product type or service. We believe that a planning-based solution-oriented approach is best for our clients. This also creates a wide variety of work for the financial advisor to do, which keeps the job from becoming routine. — Lance, VP/Financial Advisor, former Mutual Fund Wholesaler
Mike Krebs: What roles can a person with a background in high-technology sales play?
Merrill Lynch: A background in high-technology sales can be applied successfully to the Financial Advisor role. The skills involved in any kind of sales — developing presentations, identifying client needs, and implementing solutions — are used every day in the Financial Advisor role. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Elizabeth: What would be the best way to obtain a position at Merrill Lynch?
Merrill Lynch: If you are interested in being a Financial Advisor, visit the Financial Advisor Recruiting Careers Web site. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Larry: What makes Merrill Lynch’s products and services stand out from the products and services offered by other financial services firms?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch has a platform that allows investors access to a broad range of investment choices with a structure that allows the investment professional to offer the widest arrange of solutions to best meet their client needs. This open platform where the needs of the client are met with the best solution available on Wall Street allows the professional to always act in the best interest of the client. — Scott, First Vice President, Private Wealth Advisor, Former Retail Broker
N. Goodwin: What are the qualifications for Financial Advisor candidates?
Merrill Lynch: The Financial Advisor role is unique in that people from a wide variety of educational and work-experience backgrounds have been highly successful. Keys are a drive to succeed, a track record of success, and a passion for working to help clients solve problems and achieve their goals. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Scott: What sort of salary or other income could one expect during the first year or two?
Merrill Lynch: During the first two years of the training program, our Financial Advisors receive a base salary, plus commissions. The base salary is generally determined by the local branch manager, and based upon prior work experience and salary history. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Bill: What type of talents do you look for in an individual considering this career path?
Merrill Lynch: We look for candidates who have great people skills, relationship-building skills, sales skills, and business-management skills. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Kwame: Is it necessary to have experience in an economic-based field in order to pursue a career as a financial advisor?
Merrill Lynch: No. We will consider candidates from a variety of backgrounds. We do require all candidates to have a proven track record in their field. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Dr. Ron: Generating leads appears to be a function of networking and ‘who you know’. Is this the primary method of generating leads?
Merrill Lynch: Networking, seminars, referrals, local advertising, and the draw of the Merrill Lynch brand are the primary client development strategies. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Jeremy Dobes: Is the Financial Advisory Center program the step before becoming a Financial Advisor?
Merrill Lynch: The Financial Advisory Center (FAC) is a separate unit that supports the Financial Advisors in servicing clients. Some Representatives from the FAC will become Financial Advisors over time. The FAC is one way that employees can move to the Financial Advisor role. Most of our current Financial Advisors have come through our training program. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Chris: I’m interested in knowing how Merrill Lynch expects to hire financial advisors in a bear market.
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch is always looking for talented individuals to become financial advisors, regardless of what type of market it is. In fact, one might consider that the best time to become a financial advisor is in a difficult market. One reason for this is that we strive to develop deep relationships with clients that transcend market activity. If a client entrusts assets with us, we are expected to manage those assets in both good markets and challenging ones. Having started my sales career with Merrill during a ‘difficult market’, I think that I can honestly share with you from personal experience that it is not the market that is going to make a successful financial advisor; it is the individual. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
KB: Realistically, what could one expect for a first year salary?
Merrill Lynch: The first year’s compensation is a combination of base and bonuses. Local management typically sets the base, and the incentives are based on the performance of the employee. Longer-term compensation is a combination of both current cash and deferred/equity programs. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Tobias Moon: How does Merrill Lynch help financial advisors find clients?
Merrill Lynch: The draw of the brand brings clients from seminars, national advertising, local advertising, and referrals. Each Financial Advisor employs the business development style that best suits them. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Colin: What does an attorney seeking to transition into a financial career bring to the table?
Merrill Lynch: A business attorney normally brings great insight to prospective business clients, including the thought processes of senior executives and knowledge of the financial needs of businesses. In addition, much of the success of a good Financial Advisor is dependent on the ingenuity of the advisor. The thought process developed through law school and perfected in practice can prove invaluable here. Finally, being a lawyer in a past career can provide good credibility for some prospective clients. — Dan, Vice President, Producing Manager, Former Attorney
Larry: How soon after starting your career should you pursue the Certified Financial Manager designation?
Merrill Lynch: The Certified Financial Manager designation is a requirement of all new Financial Advisors within the first 12 months of production. Most Financial Advisors start studying shortly after joining Merrill Lynch. — Michelle, Recruiting Manager
Lisa: What are the key characteristics of someone who is successful as a Financial Advisor, and what type of background is most beneficial?
Merrill Lynch: Our ideal candidates are sales professionals, attorneys, financial planners, and bankers with five or more years of professional experience. These candidates have experience developing business, as well as establishing relationships with affluent clients. It is strongly preferred that candidates possess a bachelor’s degree in a business-related discipline. Also, our successful Financial Advisors are high achievers with a strong work ethic, a passion to excel, extraordinary interpersonal skills, and a team-orientation. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Theo: Are you hiring immediately?
Merrill Lynch: Yes. Please apply at our Web site. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Catharine: How is a Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor different from any other advisor?
Merrill Lynch: There are many reasons that a Merrill Lynch Advisor is different, but I will focus on three — professionalism, training, and integrity. As a firm, Merrill Lynch holds itself to the highest standards and expects its employees to do the same. We are not just Merrill Lynch Financial Advisors in the office, but outside the office as well. Our training is the best in the industry and is ever changing to keep pace with the dynamic securities industry. I have never met more upstanding individuals, who do what’s best for their clients, make family a priority, and are so actively involved in their communities. I include myself in this group, and I can say that Merrill Lynch promotes nothing but the best for its clients, employees, and families. — Heather, Vice President, Financial Advisor, Former Financial Representative
Ben: What are the most important attributes for a ‘non-sales’ financial professional to make a successful transition to a sales role?
Merrill Lynch: A non-sales professional should evaluate his or her personal strengths and weaknesses, and use these to their benefit. Merrill Lynch has a tremendous diversity of clients, so no one type of Financial Advisor is needed to succeed. If someone was not a ‘sales expert’, they might possess expertise in certain areas (e.g. stock options, retirement plans, financial planning, etc.) that would make them invaluable to certain potential clients. — Dan, Vice President, Producing Manager, Former Attorney
Dr. Ron: What is the average ‘start-up’ curve to begin seeing both traction and financial rewards?
Merrill Lynch: Typically, the first two years of a Financial Advisor’s career are spent building a book of business. The compensation during these two years is competitive and tied to the growth of client assets. A successful first two years leads to significant income growth and a variety of long-term deferred compensation. The effort during the first two years to build a book is well worth it, given the long-term opportunities. — Josette, First Vice President, Financial Advisor, Former Commercial Lender
Mark: How much control do you have over the investments that you put your clients into?
Merrill Lynch: It is always expected that my investment recommendations be made to the best of my ability, with all the Merrill Lynch principals of integrity and client focus in mind. To that end, Merrill Lynch guides me, but, ultimately, the ideas I give my clients are my own, using the research I have captured both from the firm and from my own experience and outside reading. As a self-policing organization guided by the standards as set forth by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Association of Securities Dealers, Merrill Lynch is always aware of the work I do. There are many checks and balances in the system to continually monitor my actions, taking care that I am compliant with the firm’s regulations and policies. Additionally, there are teams of product specialists to advise and assist me with appropriate recommendations for my clients. This is an area in which Merrill Lynch, in my opinion, is clearly leading the industry. — Lisa, Vice President, Financial Advisor
Tobias Moon: Why does Merrill Lynch recruit lawyers for financial advisor positions?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch recruits individuals from many professions — lawyers, accountants, bankers, etc. Because of the wide range of clients and needs of those clients here at Merrill Lynch, there are plenty of opportunities for people in former professions to use their developed expertise as a financial advisor. This is especially true now that the trend over the past number of years has been to develop financial advisor teams with individual strengths among the members. — Dan, Vice President, Producing Manager, Former Attorney
Spatrizi: Given the current investing climate, are you seeing more customers turning away from ‘do-it-yourself’ approaches and moving towards professional investment management?
Merrill Lynch: Yes. In these challenging times, it makes no sense to ‘go it alone’. As an investment professional, my clients are aware that I have vast resources available to help me make the most informed decisions and recommendations. The tools that I have at my disposal are far greater than they have. However, my clients know that I do not have a corner on all the knowledge necessary to address all their needs. They are aware that I have a full range of specialists that I can and do call upon to assist me in the highly specialized areas where I am not an expert. — Lisa, Vice President, Financial Advisor
Steven: Will an individual still be considered if he or she has been an attorney for only six months?
Merrill Lynch: Yes. Merrill is more concerned about why the individual wants to become a Financial Advisor, can they succeed, and do they have the character and integrity expected of a Merrill Lynch employee. — Dan, Vice President, Producing Manager, Former Attorney
Dr. Ron: Is a Series 7 license or other license or schooling required? If so, how long does it take? Who pays, and how much do they pay?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch will sponsor you for the Series 7, 66, and Life and Health Insurance licenses. You will be required to pass these exams during your first 16 weeks of employment. Merrill Lynch will cover the costs for all tests. — Michelle, Recruiting Manager
Kwame: Is the advice provided to clients by financial advisors determined by that specific advisor, or is there a hierarchy of investments and long-term deferred vehicles that are specifically addressed by the company as a whole?
Merrill Lynch: The advisor, utilizing the strategic advice of Merrill Lynch, determines the advice a client receives. It focuses on the process of getting to know the client, then advising on the best way to meet his or her needs. We also have a consulting service, where at higher asset hurdles we can tap into separate account management, then come up with a strategic allocation. — Scott, First Vice President, Private Wealth Advisor, Former Retail Broker
Lisa: What are the key characteristics of someone who is successful as a Financial Advisor, and what type of background is most beneficial?
Merrill Lynch: Someone who is resilient and open to change. I think someone who genuinely enjoys people is also a plus. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Nina: I have been contemplating a career move to become a financial advisor for a year now, and would like to know whether someone with my background (in retail management, office management, sales, paralegal, and entrepreneurship) could become a self-fulfilled and successful financial advisor. I have recently moved from Canada to the United States, and think it is a great opportunity.
Merrill Lynch: Your background is similar to many successful financial advisors here at Merrill Lynch. . — Dan, Vice President, Producing Manager, Former Attorney
KB: How much evening and weekend work is involved?
Merrill Lynch: It depends. In the training program, which is for people new to the industry, the first two years require more of a time commitment. Remember that starting as a new Financial Advisor is similar to starting your own business without the overhead. Generally, you will need to work at least three nights a week. Depending on how efficient you are, you may have to come in on Saturdays. Based on the unlimited potential income, most Financial Advisors gladly work longer hours. — Heather, Vice President, Financial Advisor, Former Financial Representative
Spatrizi: What are some of the challenges facing financial advisors?
Merrill Lynch: Our industry has changed dramatically in the last few years, and, at present, shows no signs of abating. Therefore, I would say a significant challenge is predicting where our industry is going. Merrill spends substantial resources on this issue and keeps the financial advisors updated on changes and new challenges. Time management is also a key challenge for most financial advisors. Distinguishing who is an appropriate client for Merrill Lynch is another. — Dan, Vice President, Producing Manager, Former Attorney
Sahalu: I am very interested, and I have all the requirements to be a successful Financial Advisor. Where do I go from here?
Merrill Lynch: Click on the “Apply Now” in your left hand margin. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Betty: Why would I want to be a Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch?
Merrill Lynch: The Financial Advisor career at Merrill Lynch provides a unique opportunity to run your own business with the support and resources of a world-class organization. These resources include best in class technology, network of product specialists, brand recognition, coaching and counseling from managers, broad array of products and services, and freedom to build a practice with a team of Financial Advisors. — Mike, Director Financial Advisor Recruiting
Sylvie: Do you accept candidates with degrees from Europe?
Merrill Lynch: We do recognize degrees from accredited institutions in other countries. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
John: What types of loans do you offer customers, and is there a target market in terms of loan size?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch offers both business loans as well as personal loans. There is no set target market. It’s up to the Financial Advisor to decide where to focus his/her efforts. As far as my business is concerned, I focus on business loans in the $1mm to $20mm arena, both revolving lines of credit, as well as fixed term loans and commercial real estate loans. Our rates are extremely competitive, as we base our rates on the 30-day LIBOR. On the personal side, I focus my lending activities on $500m to $5mm residential mortgages. Merrill Lynch has quite a variety of mortgage products available, from 1 to 6 month adjustable, to 5-, 7-, and 10-year ARMS, based on LIBOR, prime or 1-year treasury. — Josette, First Vice President, Financial Advisor, Former Commercial Lender
Matt: I am a seasoned sales professional currently living in Los Angeles who is used to earning near six figures annually and looking for a career change. Does a career as a Financial Advisor provide the same opportunity or better?
Merrill Lynch: The short answer is, “Yes.” Our compensation program is designed to align the interest of the client with that of the Financial Advisor. As the clients’ assets grow and their financial goals are met, the compensation for the Financial Advisor will also grow. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
CWS: Regarding lead generation, do you provide contacts, or do your financial advisors generate their leads exclusively on their own?
Merrill Lynch: There are some leads that are generated from various advertising that is done. However, for the most part, you should look at this as an entrepreneurial situation. You will be developing your own financial services practice, similar to a professional doctor, attorney, accountant, etc. You determine the type of market segment that you want to go after — business owners, professionals, widows, baby boomers, etc. — and we provide you with all of the training and support that is necessary for you to develop a successful practice. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Ed: How does e-mail from Merrill Lynch’s analysts affect perception when you are cold calling or discussing with present clients?
Merrill Lynch: Whenever a Financial Advisor can get the opportunity to have a conversation with a prospect for over two minutes; it’s a good thing. The current investigation that is taking place gives our Financial Advisors an excellent opportunity to do just that. In so doing, they are able to discuss the real difference between Merrill Lynch and some of our competitors in the industry. They also have the opportunity to discuss their individual financial service practices. Each of our Financial Advisors has the opportunity to develop deep and diversified relationships with clients that enable us to satisfy all of their financial objectives, and not just equity selection. The fact is that the vast majority of our clients are not impacted by the current events because they have followed the recommendations of their Financial Advisors to diversify their portfolios. In addition, a large percentage of the assets that our Financial Advisors manage are in diversified portfolios managed by outside money managers. This program is called Merrill Lynch Consults. As a result, the analyst conflict of interest question is not an issue for them. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Frank: What is the culture like at Merrill Lynch?
Merrill Lynch: The culture is defined by the Merrill Lynch Principles. They are Client Focus, Respect for the Individual, Teamwork, Integrity, and Responsible Citizenship. These principles drive our collective behavior and make Merrill Lynch a great place to work. While working together to serve our clients, our employees are building a culture of excellence in the process. — Mike, Director Financial Advisor Recruiting
Nina: I am currently enrolled in a financial planning program, and I have a background in sales, management, and paralegal work. I also have launched my own business — a legal-services company. Would Merrill Lynch be interested in me, given this background?
Merrill Lynch: Yes. Simply click on “Apply Now” in your left hand margin. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
KB: What are some typical market segmentations?
Merrill Lynch: Some typical market segmentations are business owners, widows, widowers, doctors, accountants, baby boomers, generation Y’ers, and senior citizens. Often, a financial services practice will have a mixture of a few of these. The decision on what segments to specialize in comes as a result of personal interest, as well as established networks. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Mark: What is the process for generating leads when starting out? Is it mostly cold calling, or are you given qualified leads to follow up on?
Merrill Lynch: There are some leads distributed to new and existing Financial Advisors, but the primary responsibility for developing a client base rests with each individual Financial Advisor. This allows each Financial Advisor to build their business in a way that leverages their strengths. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Gary Britt: What licenses will we be trained to receive?
Merrill Lynch: Series 7 and 66, as well as insurance. — Mollie, Director, Financial Advisor Training
Pete: I have nine years of experience in retail sales, and five years of experience in the financial industry. I’ve explored becoming a planner once before, but not necessarily an advisor. What types of qualifications would enrich being an excellent financial advisor? Are there any things to watch out for that say, “This is not the career for you?”
Merrill Lynch: Our Financial Advisors come from a variety of backgrounds, and not all in the financial services industry. However, there are a few personal traits that we find consistently in our most successful advisors. They possess a keen interest in assessing and solving complicated problems, they have strong relationship-building skills, and they have a passion for excellence. Other necessary competencies include resilience, achievement, drive, and business development/management skills. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
CWS: Regarding lead generation — do you provide contacts or do your Financial Advisors generate their leads exclusively on their own?
Merrill Lynch: There are some leads that are generated from various advertising that is done. However, for the most part, you should look at this as an entrepreneurial situation. You will be developing your own financial services practice, similar to a professional doctor, attorney, accountant, etc. You determine the type of market segment that you want to go after (business owners, professionals, widows, baby boomers, etc.), and we provide you with all of the training and support that is necessary for you to develop a successful practice. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Banking Lawyer: What skill set do you look for in candidates? How does that skill set differ from those for college graduates and M.B.A.s?
Merrill Lynch: The skill set for the ideal candidate would include sales/marketing experience, knowledge of the markets, experience with the analysis of complex issues and the implementation of solutions across a diverse client base. The ideal candidate is one who is committed to the client and to a professional career path. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Kenneth: What three attributes do you consider essential for success (assuming good intelligence and financial skills in place)?
Merrill Lynch: Entrepreneurial spirit, achievement drive and a high level of resilience are the three attributes that are essential. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Dat: Hello, I’d like to know if Merrill Lynch will provide training for people coming from another field.
Merrill Lynch: Yes, Merrill Lynch provides an in-depth training program focusing on both getting you the necessary registrations as well as a program focusing on developing a successful financial services practice. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
John: What are the greatest obstacles experienced by those changing careers? What does Merrill Lynch do to help?
Merrill Lynch: The challenge is finding the time and energy necessary to build a practice. Merrill Lynch offers an in-depth training program designed to get you off to a solid start. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Tom: Do Merrill Lynch Financial Advisors compete with the fee-only financial advisors?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch offers several different pricing platforms. We have options to appeal to any type of need. Our role as Financial Advisors is to explore all of these possibilities with our clients and find out which schedule of fees best suits the type of investment program that we are recommending. It is all very specific and custom tailored. No two clients’ needs are the same. — Lisa, Vice President, Financial Advisor
Test: Will the training take place in my local city (Washington, D.C.) or somewhere centralized like New York City?
Merrill Lynch: Training will take place in both the local office and in Princeton, N.J. The vast majority of training is offered via a specially-built intranet site. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Stephanie: Is there a formal program in place at Merrill Lynch whereby an interested person (for example, with no securities industry experience but other valid financial experience) could be paired up with an experienced Financial Advisor for a defined period of time?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch does promote partnering with senior Financial Advisors who have expertise in serving clients. Partnering — or teaming — can take place to address specific situations or on a more formalized permanent basis. — Mollie, Director, Financial Advisor Training
Sanjay: I reside in Singapore, and I am interested in exploring opportunities with Merrill Lynch. I would like to know whether Merrill Lynch hires professionals from overseas.
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch hires professionals from overseas for positions in the U.S. Applicants must be able to show proof of their ability to work in the U.S. on a full-time basis. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Ross: What kind of selling is involved in being a Financial Advisor?
Merrill Lynch: Good question! I really feel that I educate clients so that they have the appropriate information to choose among the various solutions we provide. For instance, when I get a new client I generally will do a financial plan with them prior to recommending anything. This provides me with information on their net worth, tax situation, risk tolerance, goals and objectives. Then I match the criteria with the investments or services that meet their needs. We provide cutting-edge solutions to solve our clients’ problems and when done appropriately, we don’t have to sell anything. — Heather, Vice President, Financial Advisor, Former Financial Sales Representative
Matt: How long does it typically take to complete the financial-planning course? Are you employed by Merrill Lynch at that time, or is employment contingent upon completion of the course?
Merrill Lynch: If by the financial-planning course you mean the initial training program you will need to be a registered Financial Advisor — it takes 17 weeks. Yes, you are an employee of Merrill Lynch during that time. Additionally over the next year, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in a more advanced financial planning course of study — while starting to build your practice. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Henrietta: Can you work from home?
Merrill Lynch: Our Financial Advisors work in our branch offices in compliance with a current New York Stock Exchange/Securities and Exchange Commission regulation that requires management oversight of their work. In addition, a majority of our training-program activities are offered through Merrill Lynch branch offices. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Scott: I’ve been a business executive for quite a while and have reached a point where I’m interested in a career change. Are there any guidelines on the maximum reasonable age for someone to join the program?
Merrill Lynch: There is no maximum age and we encourage applicants from any age range. We find that applicants with significant employment experience are frequently able to draw on their many contacts and business acquaintances in the development of their business. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Jean: Are sales assistants provided?
Merrill Lynch: Absolutely. Merrill Lynch prides itself on providing the best service that we can to our clients. A Financial Advisor requires the resources of qualified and committed support staff to help in the day-to-day management of administrative and clerical functions. The ratio of sales assistants to Financial Advisors is based on a number of factors, as determined by local management and firm policy. — Lisa, Vice President, Financial Advisor
Larry: What can a college senior do to get on the road to becoming a Financial Advisor?
Merrill Lynch: You can work in a Merrill Lynch Branch Office as an assistant to a Financial Advisor. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Kwame: Is it necessary to have the aforementioned licenses prior to applying for a position as a Financial Advisor?
Merrill Lynch: No. It is not required that you possess the various licenses prior to becoming a Financial Advisor. In fact, a critical part of our training program includes time to prepare for and obtain the required licenses and certifications. — Lee, Recruiting Manager
Achiever: I have solid credentials in commercial lending, sales and real estate, and have worked closely with small businesses. I have recently become a certified financial planner. I hold an M.B.A., and I am 61 years old. Is there any opportunity for a person of my background and credentials either directly or on a contract basis with Merrill Lynch?
Merrill Lynch: Your career goals coupled with your experience would be very helpful and relevant if you are interested in pursuing full-time employment as a Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor. Merrill Lynch does not hire Financial Advisors on a contract basis. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Billy: I have no financial sales experience, but I do have sales experience. Can you tell me a little bit about the training involved? What is the success rate?
Merrill Lynch: Training for the Financial Advisor role is intensive and comprehensive, and sales representatives, like yourself, can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to carry out the role. What makes people successful in this role is their commitment to building their business and serving their clients. It is the type of job that takes an individual who is totally focused on the business to insure long-term success. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Tom: In general have you found that CPAs succeed or fail at your firm?
Merrill Lynch: Former CPAs tend to be very successful at Merrill Lynch. Many of the skills used by CPAs are transferable to the Financial Advisor position. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Suzanne: Does Merrill Lynch have a formal program whereby a person, with no securities industry experience, can be paired up with an experienced Financial Advisor for a finite period of time to enable them to ‘learn the industry’ before going out on their own?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch does not have a ‘formal’ program to place new Financial Advisors with experienced Financial Advisors for a finite period, although we do fully support and encourage this team-based approach. We also work to foster coaching and mentoring relationships. — Mollie, Director, Financial Advisor Training
Shirl: I don’t have any relevant experience. What are my first steps?
Merrill Lynch: You could pursue a sales position or seek a sales assistant job with Merrill Lynch to acquire relevant work experience for the Financial Advisor position. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Bullish: I live in Georgia. Are there any special requirements for being a Financial Advisor in my state?
Merrill Lynch: There are no special requirements beyond the standard state and national licenses. Merrill Lynch provides the preparation for these tests. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Mel: My background is in marketing research and I think I have very good analytical skills. I never thought of myself as a salesperson. How much of being a Financial Advisor is about selling?
Merrill Lynch: Having the ability to make a persuasive presentation is important, however, more important is the sincere desire to help an investor meet their stated financial goals. If you get excited about helping people, that will come through and will help you develop strong relationships with people. That is the important thing. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Drron: Does a Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor work as a contractor or an employee of the company?
Merrill Lynch: All Financial Advisors are employees of Merrill Lynch. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Wunderkind: How stable is a career as a Financial Advisor given the turbulent state of the economic and political climate?
Merrill Lynch: I have been in the industry for 21 years. I was a producer for 15 years from 1981-96 before I went into management. That period included some turbulent years (1984-85: rising interest rates; l987: “crash”; l990: Gulf War; l994-95: Mexican peso devaluation, etc.). The point is that all things are possible if you are willing to work at it. Is it a walk in the park? No — but anything worth its value takes work. It all depends on your attitude. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Suzanne: What is the structure of the training program?
Merrill Lynch: The program combines local office coaching, long-distance learning and in-classroom training. The initial 17 weeks is an in-depth program focusing on getting you the necessary registrations needed in this industry as well as helping you develop the skills and knowledge necessary to build a successful practice. As you begin your practice, continuing training opportunities are offered. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Mike: What would be considered the hardest transition for a person with a nonfinancial background to the Financial Advisor position?
Merrill Lynch: I have been a Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch for seven years. I came from a financial background, and I still am not an expert at the vast array of products and services Merrill has to offer their clients. Therefore I would think that the hardest transition would be getting accustomed to ‘financial lingo’ and the Merrill Lynch product and services line. On the other side of the equation, Merrill provides all the education you could possibly want in these areas. — Dan, Vice President, Producing Manager, Former Attorney
Catharine: Is the position only commission-based? If so, how does someone support her/himself during the training period?
Merrill Lynch: You will receive a base salary plus commissions for the first two years of training. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Mike: How does one become established with a list of clientele?
Merrill Lynch: You go through a mentor period where you work with a key established professional learning the in’s and out’s of the business as well as going through the professional development training program.
Your clients come from marketing yourself and the firm in various ways — this is in every sense of the word an entrepreneurial business. — Scott, First Vice President, Private Wealth Advisor
Jessica: Does Merrill Lynch target ‘regular’ families for financial advisory services, or just high net-worth families?
Merrill Lynch: Merrill Lynch targets all families for financial services. We have come to realize, however, that it is more efficient for us to segment our offerings. As a result, we have the Financial Advisory Center for clients with up to $100,000 in investible assets, our Financial Advisors work with clients from $100,000 to $10 million and our Private Wealth Advisors work with clients $10 million and above. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Brian: How does the training differ for those who already have their Series 7?
Merrill Lynch: Getting your Series 7 is only one small part of the training. The vast majority of the training focuses you on developing the skills and knowledge necessary to build a successful practice at Merrill Lynch. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Gail: What would you suggest if one does not have experience in sales, banking, financial planning, etc., to prepare for this field?
Merrill Lynch: Anything that you can do to gain experience in gaining commitment from people is helpful. For example, you might volunteer to work for a local civic organization to build your skills in recruiting new members. — Al, Vice President, Financial Advisor Training
Alexander: Do you intend to recruit in Europe — notably in France?
Merrill Lynch: The Financial Advisor positions we are recruiting for are in the U.S. — Michele, Recruiting Manager
Vanilla: What is the expectation in terms of building your own clientele? The web site discusses the necessity for ‘prospecting.’ Is it Merrill Lynch’s intention to hire new Financial Advisors who would build their own book through cold calls or would these new hires primarily service the existing client base? Would this expectation change over time as one becomes more experienced?
Merrill Lynch: Most Financial Advisors build a book of business from newly acquired clients. We don’t encourage cold calling per se but do encourage the development of a client base through a variety of methods. With the strategy geared toward high-end, affluent clients, prospecting methods should be tailored to that client base. — Mike, Director, Financial Advisor Recruiting
Dr. Ron: Is the job a ‘typical’ 9-to-5 workday? Or is there flexibility in the hours and work week?
Merrill Lynch: There is little about being a Financial Advisor that is typical. Every day is different and challenging. Please understand that this type of career opportunity does require every bit of the traditional work week to do well. You need time to meet and work with clients, implement investment strategies and monitor performance. Financial Advisors must also handle service and administrative issues. You need time to execute your business plan, including developing new business and getting out into your community. You need time to continue your education since the markets are always changing and there is much to learn every day. In many instances, these tasks have to be managed outside of the traditional 9-to-5 workday. No one will monitor your hours, and it is expected that you will take time for yourself and your family as necessary. The flexibility of those hours is left up to you. — Lisa, Vice President, Financial Advisor
Calibound: I currently live in Tennessee. However, my wife and I are planning on moving to California later this year. Could I still maintain business relationships with Tennessee residents as well as California residents?
Merrill Lynch: Yes — as long as you are registered in both states. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Tom: Do Merrill Lynch Financial Advisors require a client to have a minimum net worth or investment amount to take them on as a client?
Merrill Lynch: Some Financial Advisors have developed individual business plans that state that they will only open accounts above certain amounts. The vast majority of our Financial Advisors, however, have the flexibility of accepting accounts of any net worth. Having said that, there are opportunities for our Financial Advisors to partner with different areas of the firm to help them better manage their client base. We have found that clients at certain asset levels need different types of services.
So, our Financial Advisory Center is best able to work with clients of up to $100,000 in assets; our Financial Advisors usually work with clients of $100,000 to $10 million in assets; and our Private Wealth Advisors work with clients of $10 million or more. At any time, our Financial Advisors are encouraged to partner with the other client segments to help serve the needs of the particular client. — Marsha, National Sales Manager
Julie: Is all of the Financial Advisor training done on site, or is travel involved?
Merrill Lynch: Training is delivered in the local branch office through our Learning Network (which is accessible both at home and at work) and at our U.S. Private Client headquarters in Princeton, N.J. — Mollie, Director, Financial Advisor Training
Patrick: What makes a successful Financial Advisor?
Merrill Lynch: Successful Financial Advisors must be able to listen to their clients’ needs and then be able to match the different Merrill Lynch services/products to resolve their clients’ financial problems . Many times, an advisor comes up with a solution first before he or she thoroughly understands what the client is looking for. Oftentimes the client says one thing, but is really saying something else. A good advisor must be able to interpret what the client is trying to say. — Josette, First Vice President, Financial Advisor, Former Commercial Lender