Here's why Bank of America's wealth arm has resumed interviewing for its financial adviser training program after taking a pause in April

  • Bank of America's Merrill Lynch business has resumed hiring into its massive financial adviser training program after a temporary pause instated in early spring.  
  • The resumption highlights how firms are evolving their hiring plans during the pandemic as they grapple with a highly uncertain economic outlook. 
  • The wealth manager is also starting to bring back the group of some 650 or so adviser trainees who paused their training earlier in the pandemic to instead help customers in other parts of the bank. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Bank of America's Merrill Lynch business, among the largest US-based wealth managers, has resumed hiring into its massive financial adviser training program, a critical engine for sourcing fresh talent that temporarily stopped interviewing new candidates in April. 

Since then, many adviser trainees have graduated from the 3-1/2-year program, which typically trains up some 3,000 people at once, according to a senior Merrill Lynch executive. 

A company spokesperson has not responded to a request to specify the number of advisers that have shifted into full-time positions in recent months, or comment on when interviewing for new candidates resumed. 

The wealth manager is also starting to bring back the group of some 650 or so adviser trainees who paused their training earlier in the pandemic and were reassigned to help customers in other parts of the bank. 

The shifts show how firms are evolving plans during the pandemic as they grapple with a highly uncertain economic outlook, and as a jump in new coronavirus cases in some parts of the US throw a wrench in re-opening plans.

Merrill Lynch, which reported second-quarter earnings results on Thursday alongside parent Bank of America, has continued adding new trainees to its program during the second quarter in large part based on offers extended during the first quarter, according to the company's senior executive. 

The business initially paused training because it wasn't clear how effective training and remote on-boarding would prove, but teams and trainees are "thriving" in a remote work environment and interviewing new candidates has resumed, a spokesperson said. 

Read more: $2.2 trillion wealth manager Merrill Lynch is pausing new hires for a 3,000-plus person financial adviser training program that's its main talent pipeline

The business now has some 17,900 wealth professionals through June 30, which includes full-fledged financial advisers as well as investment professionals and employees that work on the firm's self-directed trading platform, Merrill Edge.

Merrill Lynch stopped reporting the total number of full-service financial advisers in its ranks, which has fallen in recent years as, along with its competitors, advisers have exited or retired and it's focused on training talent internally.

The wider industry has grappled with more advisers leaving the industry than there is new blood going in, and firms have aimed to recruit and retain new financial adviser talent with rigorous, multi-year internal training processes.

Gradually bringing back trainees reassigned to other roles

Early in the second quarter of this year, Bank of America re-positioned hundreds of employees to focus on a surge in demand across consumer and small business segments.

Business Insider first reported in April that some 650 people were temporarily taken out of adviser training and directed to remotely assist customers with the federal Paycheck Protection Program intended to help protect small businesses and their employees during the crisis. 

Most of those employees continue to serve in those roles, though some are starting to return to Merrill Lynch to complete their training through a phased approach, a spokesperson said. A timeline is not yet in place. 

Read more: Bank of America is pausing financial adviser training for 650 people and reassigning them to handle surging calls from consumer and small-business customers

The wealth manager reported a rise of less than 1% to some $2.4 trillion in client assets since the same time last year.

Meanwhile, revenue dropped 10% during that period, to $3.6 billion, which Merrill Lynch said was a result of lower transactional revenue and net interest income — a knock-on effect of ultra-low interest rates in the US.

Brian Moynihan, the chief executive of Bank of America, called the timeframe the "most tumultuous period since the Great Depression" in a statement alongside second-quarter earnings.

Firm-wide profits fell by about half from the same period last year as the bank set aside $5.1 billion for loans it expects customers will not be able to repay amid the pandemic. 

Read more: 

  • Morgan Stanley, UBS, and Merrill Lynch execs explain how to nab a spot in their next-gen adviser programs and make it through the ultra-competitive, years-long training process
  • Wealth managers could save millions in costs from a snappier recruitment process. An analyst lays out the 3 firms that could benefit most.
  • Morgan Stanley financial advisers are starting to head back to offices around the country. Here's what they can expect when they return.

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