Magazine article American Banker

Merrill Lynch Plans Office for the Superaffluent

Magazine article American Banker

Merrill Lynch Plans Office for the Superaffluent

Article excerpt

Merrill Lynch & Co. plans to open an office in Century City, Calif., by late spring that will target people with investable assets of at least $10 million.

About 350,000 households in the United States qualify for this "ultra-high-net-worth" label. Merrill expects the market segment to grow 9% a year over the next five years, said Doris P. Meister, chairman and chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch Trust Co. and executive director of wealth management services at Merrill.

The financial services giant manages about $300 billion of assets in this class out of a pool of $900 billion, said Ms. Meister, who spoke at a presentation on Thursday at the company's headquarters in New York. The $1 million-and-up class is expected to account for about 5% of U.S. households by 20002, Merrill says.

The company already has approximately 125 financial consultants dealing solely with ultrahigh-net-worth clients, Ms. Meister said. But there are plans to increase that to 200 by yearend, she said in an interview with American Banker following her presentation.

Opening a dedicated office in Century City, which is within striking distance of the exclusive neighborhoods of Bel Air and Beverly Hills, will give Merrill the chance to pilot the idea of a focused office in areas where there is a high concentration of wealth.

"We're seeing what the merits of this particular approach are," Ms. Meister said.

Although the office "will be very nice," Merrill is not attempting to recreate the private banking days of old, when customers demanded fine china and wood paneling, she said. In the past, she added, far too much emphasis was put on "the walking-the-dog part of the service."

Merrill caters to many types of affluent client and increasingly comes across younger, self-made millionaires with more demanding financial needs, Ms. Meister said. "What our clients care most about is the intellectual capital as opposed to the trappings. …

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