Anyone tapped to revamp a national brokerage’s training program has a lot of work to do, but at Merrill Lynch, Racquel Oden may have the right touch. 

She is bringing the firm’s emphasis around working in teams and implementing a “goals-based” planning approach to recruits, and at the same time seeking to boost the firm’s graduation rates to an unheard-of 50 percent. 

Oden, who joined Bank of America’s Global Wealth & Investment Management unit in 2010, oversees all advisor development strategy for the firm, including its practice management development (PMD) training program. “What’s great about this role is that it’s taking what I was going for our existing financial advisors and bringing it to our PMDs,” Oden says. 

Merrill’s PMD program, which has some 3,400 trainees, currently graduates about 35 percent of its members, and that is considered one of the highest graduation rates among national brokerages, Oden says. She thinks she can boost that number to 50 percent by the end of 2017. The 43-month program graduated 106 new advisors during the second quarter.

Like Merrill’s full-fledged advisors, Oden says trainees are being educated around goals-based planning, with a focus on team alignment. “It’s about ensuring that next generation financial advisors have the opportunity to join a team,” Oden says. In fact, some 60 percent of advisors in the PMD program are part of an advisory team. 

Late last month, Oden spearheaded the rollout of a new 31-month education track for trainees, the Team Financial Advisor program. Under the new model, trainees are hired directly onto teams in a specific concentration, such as business development or planning. “The TFA role will give teams the framework to grow through segmentation strategies and allow our advisors to better position themselves for the changing demographics of our clients and prospects,” Oden told advisors.

The first TFA class begins this month, with new classes offered on a monthly basis. TFA trainees will meet team performance hurdles rather than individual hurdles. And upon completion of the program, TFA trainees may gain equity ownership in the team.

Oden is also looking to capture potential recruits even younger. Merrill rolled out a new internship program this summer aimed at college juniors and seniors. The firm chose 236 interns across the country for a 10-week, in-person and web-based training period. The students are paired up with financial advisors and get some experience working with clients. “We look for high achievers who have a track record of success,” Oden says. “We are really building to support the next generation of advisors here.”