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Earlier this year, it was reported that Merrill Lynch would back away from the traditional imperative in the wealth industry of growth through recruiting. Instead, it would make more substantial investments in advisor performance – including more training, practice support and new technology. Merrill Lynch has always been an innovator and leader and this significant shift towards a stronger Sales Performance Management posture signals an important strategy for the future in the wealth management industry.
Read also: Merrill Lynch refocuses on performance culture.
Now, the other shoe has dropped – this time in the form of a substantial change in how Merrill will compensate financial advisors in the new year. This makes perfect sense in the context of Merrill’s evolving strategy that is focused on driving growth through enhancing the scale and performance of the existing roster of advisors. It’s akin to same store performance metric in the retail sector, in this case, it’s about ‘same practice performance’. It also clearly signals that Merrill is a home for growth and performance focused advisors.
Merrill has lead the industry in compensation innovation for decades. Since the late 1990s, they have been striving to better align their advisor incentive compensation with their corporate strategy. Annually, they review their incentive compensation plans in order to adjust, test and iterate.
But this year, something is different. When we take this in the context of other changes in their focus, we can see the clear emergence of a strong bias to investment in advisor performance over other growth investments. And the focus is on growing the business through the acquisition of the right customers.
The new approach to incentive compensation features a strong emphasis on supporting, focusing and rewarding growth. Let me break it down to its component parts:
Finally, we note that Merrill is making some significant changes to help with advisor retirement and customer retention by substantial enhancement to the existing Client Transition Program. A clear indication that the aging demographics of the advisor population are becoming an increasingly acute concern for future business performance.
Overall, Merrill Lynch is moving in the right direction, making smart, strategically aligned incentive compensation the foundation of their sales performance management program and increasing the likelihood of strong future corporate performance.
Whether you’re an industry veteran or are new to the advice industry, the next five years are going to bring many changes to the wealth management and advice industry. These changes will threaten some financial advisors and their practices, yet will represent enormous opportunities to others.
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