Here are all of the comments RR heard from Merrill Lynch brokers.
"[Merrill does a good job at] keeping client interests first. What is the right thing to do? We’re very conservative, we’ll say ‘No’ to things in gray areas."
"Gives us tools to deal with hi-net-worth market. Obviously higher quality assistants are needed."
"Good research, marketing firm."
"The brand recognition with public and ability to leverage that is impressive. Employee relations are very corporate, company has lack of compassion."
"Not good at diversity relationships. My particular office is the worst. Good at operations and research and product availability."
"Overall strategy, service second to none with ML Direct and other customer-friendly strategies. Top heavy with expenses as far as upper management is concerned."
"Total package, financial planning and fee-based options are spectacular. We don’t have enough IPOs on the bottom, retail level."
"Merrill should give each office X dollars to be charitable in an area. We don’t do enough advertising in all media."
"We’re very cutting edge, provide best possible researching at best price. Tend to not retain people, they leave from three to six years."
"Merrill keeps the client’s best interest first and products and service is second to none. We need more organization at all levels."
"Being a women at Merrill is very, very tough [because of the sexual discrimination suits], but it’s getting a lot better. At one point, I was the only women in my office for several years. But they’ve hired a lot more, so it’s much more comfortable now."
"The most important thing today with all the changes in the world is product and service and Merrill has both. The best thing about Merrill is that it has a tremendous image and presence. It makes it easy to break the ice with a prospect. We could always use more SAs. And we don’t have enough national training sessions."
"Our name alone is what makes it such a great place to work. Globally, everybody knows Merrill Lynch. There’s some frustrations, but that’s no different from anywhere else. My frustration comes from our lending business area. They say we’re lenders, but our 30-year mortgage rates aren’t close to being competitive. They say to go out and talk to people, but nothing seems to go through."
"Merrill has the customer's interests at heart, and they take care of their own [employees]. They’re a household name and the leader in the industry."
"It’s a decent firm. I’ve been here 28 years. But they make it very difficult for us in terms things like the back-office mistakes we have to deal with from time to time."
"They’re ranked No. 1 by The Wall Street Journal in research, but the research could be better, particularly in terms of their managed funds. We’ve been primarily a value house, and since value investing is out of favor right now, those funds have not performed too well."
"It’s a good package overall. They have their problems like any other firm, but I wouldn’t have stayed with them for 15 years if I didn’t think they were great overall."
(Strategic focus) "Its focus on financial planning ties everything together for the benefit of clients."
(Image) "We still seem to suffer from the negative press of the past."
(Sales ideas) "Could be better, clearer. We get ideas but they're really not all that good. I use my own based on the specific needs of my clients."
(Operations) "It could be a lot more efficient but it's not."
(Quote/info) "Fantastic. Better than any others I've seen."
(Overall) "The firm’s overall platform allows us to provide what we feel is best for our clients. They're on course, they don't get lost like other large institutions. Our technology is very good."
(Payout) "It's pretty low for the amount of work we do. It's a very tough business. Unless you have the stamina to hang in there it's got to be very difficult for a young broker just starting out today."
(Freedom) "It's letting up somewhat with new management, there's still some pressure."
(Account statements) "Hard to read. I have had more meetings and phone conversations just to explain them to clients."
(Overall) "The image this firm has with the public is very strong, so that's a plus. They try at least to do a good job with research and they definitely try to focus on the private client group."
(Branch manager) "Management in our branch is excellent."
(Ideas) "They're initiating a new web-based system from which they will share ideas from other financial consultants. It should be a good thing."
(Operations) "Mistakes are made with client accounts, checks, etc. They need to address that. The firm is too big, operations suffers."
(Overall) "I like having the freedom to develop my own business. I like the direction the firm is taking toward a fee-based approach with an emphasis on planning."
(Research) "It’s good."
(Ethics) "The firm is very concerned with ethics and the public's perception of us."
(Quote/info) "It seems to go down more than it should."
(Overall) "It's a good firm, they try hard and they leave me alone. Can't ask for more than that."
(Focus) "We have a planning-based focus, asset gathering strategy, everything I need to do my job."
(Overall) "The quality of management here is very good. The firm is becoming more sensitive to what the financial consultants need in order to deliver what's best for the clients."
(Research) "Overall it's good, but I would like to see more in the direction of newer technology companies and investment banking."
(Focus) "Definitely looking ahead in the right direction toward annuitized relationships with clients."
(Overall) "I gave mostly high numbers because I think this is a good, solid firm. The only one I gave a low number was 13, because I think the quality of the sales assistants is just about average, nothing more, nothing less."
(Payout) "Pretty low."
(Research) "We have substantial resources so I think we're in pretty good shape as far as our research department."
(Sales assistants) "They're good, but they're not paid enough to stay here long."
(Overall) "There's too much cost-cutting. It's an ongoing problem. They really need to spend more on training and sales assistants."
(Focus) "It keeps changing from week to week."
(Overall) "We have great brand recognition. Our training and support is great. Our technology leads the pack. Accessibility to higher management is great. Only down side is our operations department. It's kind of like the U.S. government, so big, with so many steps, that it takes a lot of time for them to get things done or back to us with answers."
(Sales quotas) "There's a lot of pressure all the time."
(Hiring/recruiting) "It seems as though everyone they're bringing in lately is exactly alike. It's like a cookie cutter operation without any quality. As a result we have a high attrition rate."
(Operations) "You have to stay on track of everything or it falls through the cracks."
(Overall) "We have a great product range and a high level of training. The back office needs a little shaping up."
(Ideas) "We get ideas, I just don't think the quality of most of them are all that good."
(Operations) "We have a lot of turnover. Responses to questions, support, it all depends on who you talk to as to what kind of response you get."
(Overall) "I've been here long enough so that I have the freedom to do my own thing. They leave me alone. I think our technology could be better but I suppose it's better than most."
"I would say I’m quite satisfied."
(Quote/info) "When it’s working, it’s a 9. When it’s not working, like today, it’s a zero."
"I think ethically we stand for the highest ethics a firm could have. I think it’s a great place to work. They take care of sale assistants, have diversity. There’s always a place for family as well as the work environment. Sales assistants get plenty of time off--three to four weeks a year. Even first year people get that. It’s unbelievable. They can take time out to get their kids to school. I’ve been here for almost 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes. From my perspective it’s a great place to work."
"It’s becoming more broker-friendly."
"The research is outstanding."
"Research sucks at all the major firms. You have do your own."
"I'd give research an 11. Also, the management is beyond any firm out there. The more I meet with other firms, the more satisfied I am here. Professionalism and ethics. Payout may be lower, but brokers here do better because of array of product research. Financial planning is good. Merrill is on the leading edge of everything, and now everyone is advertising it [financial planning]. There's no pressure to do it but if you're not doing it you're getting left behind. Some clients I've picked up just had broker before, they want more now. People used to pay for research, now they want the wisdom of a broker. People have access to so much information, what counts is how you interpret it."
"[What the firm does well] Unlimited Advantage accounts, which are fee-based accounts where clients trade online or by phone without commissions. It puts us on the same side of the table as the client."
"I have 24 years in the business. My overall impression is that it can be demanding to keep up with products and services. You need ongoing training, also support. The firm puts too much emphasis on cost of maintaining support, and not enough emphasis on the benefits. Firm should look at return on their investment in support. We should use support personnel to do routine tasks and should reassess proportion of support personnel per revenue dollar. The firm has a good perception of the direction of the industry. Unlimited advantage accounts. A blessing in disguise. It takes every conflict out of the picture. Clients are using a financial consultant rather than just using the Internet, although some of those using the Internet are just looking for good stocks and are not attuned to asset allocation. Some might have two accounts."
"Overall, it's a great firm. However, our quote system goes down a lot, two or three times a week, which is unacceptable." AM
"The firms innovations put us on the same side of the table as client. We're a low-cost provider. We have online direct trading although we're not competing against E-Trade. Our manager is fantastic. [What the firm is doing well]. The strategic vision, the way we stay ahead of the industry. We think several years into the future. From the time we came out with cash management, through our emphasis on financial planning--how can you advise a client without knowing where they are, where they want to be and what their risk tolerance is? It's absolutely essential. I've been offered incentives to leave. I don't buy lottery tickets but if I did and if I won, I'd stay right here where I am now."
"Too much middle management here. These managers seem to belong to a club of their own. Also, managers compete with us when their function should be just to provide support for brokers. Still, it's a good firm to work for."
[Broker pointed out the inexperience and shortage of back-office support people, and especially the shortage of SAs; he ranked Merrill a 4 on that question]. "The TGA system has phenomenal capabilities, but needs work on the speed of access and reliability, and the firm is focusing very much on that. It is commonly known that most brokers only use 15% of its capability, and it’s hard to learn it on your own."
"Quote and information system works well when it is up."
"Merrill Lynch has the best benefits package out there. As a woman, I can tell you that Merrill has taken an extremely progressive approach to preventative medicine. I don’t think we advertise enough. A lot of our clients are Joe Average, with $2,000 IRAs who have the potential to become Priority Clients. Merrill inundates us with training opportunities. Our TGA system is incredible. Merrill has always had good strategic vision on where the markets are heading and staying ahead of the curve. We may be late getting started, but when we do something we do it in a quality fashion, and provide the best services to our clients. We have kept clients as our primary focus and we’re still a people-oriented company."