Many of Merrill Lynch’s top veteran financial advisors are choosing to remain in their practices rather than retiring, according to a senior executive at the wirehouse.

“We have new advisors starting out. We also see many of our best advisors extending their careers,” the senior executive, who declined to be named, told reporters on Wednesday following the release of earnings results for its Bank of America parent company.

Careers in financial advice are “very conducive” to extending beyond 65 years of age, he added.

The senior executive did not specify how many of its top advisors are choosing to lengthen their careers but said that some are extending well beyond the age of 65. “We have highly skilled, trusted advisors aged 65 to 80,” he said.

BofA says attrition among experienced Merrill advisors dropped in the third quarter to below the firm’s historical average of 4% and decreased further during the fourth quarter to 3.1%.

But BofA’s total number of financial advisors — which includes those at Merrill, BofA Private Bank and consumer banking — shrank 6% to 18,846 at the end of 2021 from 20,103 at the end of 2020, according to its fourth-quarter earnings results.

The decline in the overall FA count was mainly due to an 18-month pause in hiring trainees during the pandemic and partly due to preparations to launch its new advisor development program, which kicked off in June, according to BofA. So far, 1,000 trainees have entered the program, it said.

“Quarter by quarter, we will see the numbers of [trainee advisors in] this program increase,” the senior Merrill exec said during the call with reporters. “We have talked about our desire to graduate 1,000 advisors a year from the program.”

Although he didn’t specify timeframes, the senior executive said that the program will grow to encompass 1,800 to 2,000 trainees at any given time.

Historically, Merrill has hired around 2,000 advisors into its training program each year.

BofA says it anticipates low single-digit growth in its advisor population annually over the next five years, driven by hiring and the increased success rate of advisor trainees.

“We’re seeing a demand for professional financial advice like never before,” said the senior Merrill executive, pointing to significant growth in 2021.

Focus Growth Areas

Meanwhile, the senior executive said Northern California, Texas and Florida are “strong areas of focus” for the wirehouse. “Wealth creation trends in the three states and regions I mentioned stand out,” he said.

The executive did not specify exactly how Merrill, which divides the U.S. into 105 markets, will be targeting those three areas. “We have a strong growth strategy in each of those 105 markets,” he said.

Merrill saw record client inflows of $122 billion in 2021, an increase of 636% over 2020.

The wirehouse had $17.4 billion in revenues in 2021, a 14% rise over 2020, driven by record asset management fees and the impact of loan and deposit growth, the company said.

Merrill also added 23,300 net new households in 2021, an increase of 6% over 2020. Net new ultra-high net worth households, which Merrill defines as those with more than $10 million in assets, grew 32% in 2021 year-over-year to more than 720 households.

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