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

September 9, 2021

In its latest round of updates, Merrill Lynch’s “Project Thunder” campaign focused on practice management, adding more banking information to broker offices and making it easier to send greeting cards without brand, according to an internal memo Thursday.

The memo marks the third of eight weeks of scheduled updates that aim to address common issues with Merrill’s “thunderous herd.”

It highlights the appointment last month of a new team leader, Danielle Papandrea, and her overall strategy for the practice management consulting group which includes around 30 people.

Papandrea, who joined in August from BlackRock and reports to national business development manager Craig Young, will “evolve” the PMCG strategy to “extend support” to the entire sales force, according to the memo. She replaced Nilesh Parikh, a veteran wirehouse consultancy who left Merrill in April to work as an executive coach at Koan Leadership, according to her LinkedIn.

As part of practice management updates, Merrill is also designing “modern learning and resource communities” to support brokers. It is also expanding its Elite Growth Practice system, which invites brokers to make suggestions to help them achieve account and asset growth goals to receive incentive compensation or avoid demerits within a system. introduced by Merrill in 2018.

In the second of three updates, Merrill is also adding access to customer banking and loan information to their broker workstations. “The intuitive desktop experience reduces the need to contact the [Merrill Lynch Service Network]“, reads the memo.

The third adjustment will allow brokers to send greeting cards to clients and prospects, including unbranded cards, by submitting a request to the Market Supervisor. They can also be reimbursed for 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 company.

“They looked cheap and very impersonal,” said a Northeast broker.

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

“They act like they are doing us a favor when in reality they only provide 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 clients who have made money from marijuana-related businesses. The first week, he said he would allow some interns to join teams directly rather than having to start their careers at the consumer bank at Bank of America, among other changes.

A former Merrill broker who left New England for a competitor last week said the initial rollout of the program was not enough to curb a move that had been underway for some time, but to address a number of issues small ball could always end up making a big difference for brokers in the long run.

“These things count cumulatively,” he said. He was more concerned about the 3% holdback Merrill put in place in 2019 that resulted in a pay cut.

Merrill has seen a steady exit from 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 Friday to join Rockefeller Capital Management in Ohio.

A Washington state-based team that generated $8.2 million in revenue on $1.6 billion in assets was transferred Sept. 1 to Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

The memo urges brokers to continue sending suggestions to a dedicated Project Thunder email or local management advisory boards.

Mika R. Pyle