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BofA Brokerage Chief Thiel Says Merrill Strategy Working

Bank of America Corp. brokerage head John Thiel, who boosted incentives for financial advisers to steer clients to more of the lender’s products, said the firm’s strategy to garner more fees is taking hold.

Clients’ concerns about the so-called fiscal cliff helped increase fourth-quarter revenue as investors took gains ahead of higher tax rates, Thiel said today in a memo to employees. Profit in the Merrill Lynch brokerage more than doubled from a year earlier to $578 million, while assets under management rose almost 10 percent to $698.1 billion and related fees reached a record $1.6 billion.

“As clients demonstrate their confidence in our firm by entrusting us with more of their assets, it was gratifying to see that our fee-based, deposit and lending flows were the highest since 2010,” Thiel said in the memo. “Our strategy is clearly working.”

Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan, who previously led wealth management units at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender and Fleet Financial, has said the Merrill Lynch unit was critical in building profits. Last month, Thiel announced new bonuses that reward growth in fee-earning funds and boosted payouts for retiring advisers.

The ranks of financial advisers at the end of the fourth quarter fell about 2.7 percent to 14,917 from three months earlier as underperforming brokers in Merrill’s training program departed, the firm said. That figure excludes advisers in Merrill Edge call centers.

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