Merrill Lynch Wealth Management's brokerage defections continue

Reuters

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management's main brokerage force shrank by 75 advisers in the third quarter, a reflection of the continuing war for talent in the brokerage industry.

The headcount, which stood at 16,076 as of September 30, fell by 24 in the second quarter.

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While Merrill, part of Bank of America Corp, still boasts one of the biggest adviser headcounts in the nation, the defections weighed on its annualized productivity per adviser in the third quarter, which fell to $910,000 from $915,000 in the second quarter.

That production figure was probably also weighed down by rookies in Merrill's training program, who have to build up a book of business from scratch. The brokerage has said it is on track to hire up to 2,500 new advisers this year, even as other Wall Street firms are slashing their training programs.

Including associates in Merrill Edge, a consumer bank program that targets clients with less than $250,000 to invest, headcount in the third quarter fell by just one adviser, to 17,533.

So far this year, Merrill Lynch has lost at least 150 veteran advisers who managed more than $24 billion in client assets, according to Reuters calculations. Reuters tracks the movement of individual advisers and teams managing $100 million or more in client assets, which typically translates to $1 million or more in annual production.

Strong markets helped Merrill post a 3.4 percent rise in the third quarter in the amount of money it is managing for clients, to $1.86 trillion.

Bank of America's broader global wealth and investment management division, which includes Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and private banking unit U.S. Trust, posted a 3 percent increase in client balances to $2.26 trillion, which the company tied primarily to market gains but also to improvements in deposit balances, inflows of long-term assets under management, and loan balances.

The division's net income fell 1 percent from the second quarter to $542 billion but was up 50 percent from a year earlier as revenue increased on higher net interest income.

(Reporting By Jennifer Hoyt Cummings; editing by John Wallace; Twitter @jenhoytcummings)