Project Thunder Week 3: Merrill Touts Practice Management Boost, Greeting Cards

Cecilia Nysing

September 9, 2021

In its latest round of updates, Merrill Lynch’s “Project Thunder” campaign zeroed in on practice management, adding more client banking information to broker desktops and making it easier to send out unbranded greeting cards, according to an internal memo on Thursday.

The memo marks the third of eight weeks of scheduled updates that are aimed at addressing common pain points among Merrill’s “thundering herd.”

It highlights the appointment last month of a new team leader, Danielle Papandrea, and her broad strategy for the Practice Management Consulting Group that includes around 30 staff.

Papandrea, who joined in August from BlackRock and reports to national business development head Craig Young, will be “evolving” the PMCG strategy to “expand support” across the sales force, according to the memo. She replaced Nilesh Parikh, a wirehouse advisor consulting veteran who left Merrill in April to work as an executive coach at Koan Leadership, according to his LinkedIn.

As part of the practice management updates, Merrill is also designing “modern communities of learning and resources” to support brokers. It is also expanding its Elite Growth Practice system, which prompts brokers with suggestions to help them meet the account and asset growth targets to receive incentive pay or avoid demerits under a system that Merrill introduced in 2018.

In the second of three updates, Merrill is also adding access to client banking and lending information to their broker workstations. “Intuitive desktop experience reduces the need to contact the [Merrill Lynch Service Network],” the memo says.

The third tweak will allow brokers to send clients and prospects greeting cards, including non-branded cards, by submitting a request to the market supervisor. They can also be reimbursed for the cards through the business development account, according to the memo. Brokers previously had to go through the Bank of America store and could only be reimbursed for orders placed through the firm.

“They were cheap looking and very impersonal,” one broker in the Northeast said.

Still, the changes appeared more marginal than in prior weeks, the broker said.

“They act like they are doing us favors when in reality, they are only providing things that should be part of their platform,” the broker said.

Last week, Merrill made a broader change to make it easier for brokers to open accounts for customers who earned money from marijuana-related businesses. The first week, it said it would allow some trainees to join teams directly rather than having to start their careers at Bank of America’s consumer bank, among other changes.

One former Merrill broker who left last week in New England for a competitor said that the program’s initial rollout was not enough to pump the brakes on a move that had been in the works for some time, but fixing a number of small-ball issues could still end up making a big difference for brokers long-term.

“That stuff does matter in a cumulative way,” he said. He was more concerned about the 3% withholding Merrill put in place in 2019 that resulted in a reduction in pay.

Merrill has seen a steady outflow of veteran brokers, including a $1.9-million duo who left on Friday to join UBS Wealth Management in Maine. A Merrill team generating $5 million in annual revenue also left on Friday to join Rockefeller Capital Management in Ohio.

A Washington State-based team that produced $8.2 million in revenue on $1.6 billion in assets moved on September 1 to Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

The memo invites brokers to continue to send in suggestions to a dedicated Project Thunder email or local advisory councils to management.

 

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