Merrill Lynch’s 3,000 Trainee Brokers Barred From Cold Calling Clients

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is revamping its training program for 3,000 fresh-faced brokers, including placing a ban on cold calling and expanding the initiative’s accessibility to attract more diverse talent.

Participants will be directed to use internal referrals or LinkedIn messages instead of cold calls, executives said on a conference call discussing the changes. The length of the program will be cut in half, from three years to 18 months, with a goal of graduating 1,000 new advisers a year within the next few years, according to Andy Sieg, president of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. One of the goals of the changes is to reach an 80% graduation rate, compared with a historical industry average of less than 30%.

Sieg touted the diversity of the current crop of trainees, and said the changes being implemented would help further diversify the ranks -- something that’s both a “moral imperative” and a “commercial imperative” as people of various backgrounds accrue more wealth, he said during a call with reporters Monday afternoon.

“Today our Merrill Lynch wealth-adviser trainee class is the most diverse in our history -- 30% female and more than one-third people of color,” Sieg said. “And we expect this new program will help us attract even greater numbers in the near future.”

New brokers will be directed to abandon cold calling in favor of strategies Sieg said have proven to be more effective. The unit of Bank of America Corp. first suspended trainees’ prospecting calls last year, when protocol breaches were discovered while employees were working from home.

Wealth Targeted

“As a firm and as an industry we’ve moved well beyond cold calling,” Sieg said.

While cold calling has long been a rite of passage for trainee brokers across the industry, the changes are in part designed to boost the success rate of outreach attempts, and come at a time when many banks are increasingly targeting wealthy clients. Citigroup Inc. plans to “double down on wealth” and concentrate its efforts on international hubs popular among high earners.

At Bank of America, affluent clients’ account balances surged 31% to a record $3.5 trillion, lifted by a buoyant stock market, and it added more than 7,000 households in the first quarter.

Lydia DiClemente will shepherd the revamped program and report to Matt Gellene, who co-heads adviser development with Eric Schimpf.

Dow Jones reported on the program’s revamp earlier Monday.

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