Merrill Lynch is placing “a major emphasis on teams” this year, offering brokers more training programs, best practices guidelines, sample business plans, and prototype contracts to help when brokers are establishing a partnership, according to Bob Mulholland, executive director of the advisory group at Merrill’s U.S. Private Client Group.

Mulholland told reporters at a “Bull Session” gathering this morning at the firm’s headquarters in New York City that Merrill brokers should consult with management before drawing up any partnership contracts.

“We do not like them to go out and draw up their own documents because that’s done away from us,” he said. “So I will not recognize a document they go make on their own.”

The best practices guidelines that Merrill offers includes suggestions on how to deal with the possibility that a team member might leave the firm, Mulholland said.

The percentage of brokers involved in teams, currently at 36%, according to the firm, could increase to 40% or more over the next several years, Mulholland said.

Teams are important for two reasons, he said: 1) They provide a wider audience of investors with a more well-rounded array of financial solutions, and 2) Clients who work with teams have easier access to a broker.

“Clients demand not only choice, but they demand access,” Mulholland said. “With teams, instead of the doors being open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so to speak, the doors may be open from 7:30 to 7:30. It allows for an expansion of people’s individual businesses.”

Jim Hays, first vice president of training and leadership in Merrill’s U.S. Private Client Group, said that the firm’s new Paths of Achievement training program for rookies includes some fundamentals on forming a team, delivered during the broker’s third, fourth and fifth years of training.

“There’s an art to forming these teams, but there is no single model,” he said.

Merrill trains about 2,000 new brokers each year, according to Hays. Mulholland said that rough market conditions have not stopped Merrill Lynch from hiring and recruiting new brokers, although recruiters are “much more selective” than they have been in the past. On a net basis, the firm expects to have more brokers in its U.S. Private Client Group at the end of 2001 than it did at the end of 2000, he said.

The firm’s retail sales force now stands at about 16,000 financial advisers in the United States.

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