What 5 Years Will Get You
Internally, advisers have been asking for a change in their back-end, aware that the redundancy in systems was affecting their work efficiency and frustrating clients. But management felt more than a quick fix was needed to bring the systems together. "We’ve heard this feedback for quite some time," said Sabbia. "We really wanted to solve this and take a massive step forward. But to us, our sense of urgency is a little different. We hear and ask, and we want to solve it properly. The challenge is in the complexity of the project, if it was easy everybody would be there."
Slow but steady was the company's approach to the platform development, an interesting tactic in this unsteady economic environment. "I see it as a good thing it took so long," says Mullin. "It's more important to get it right than out fast. In every part they came to us and asked, 'What do you think? Yes? No? Okay we'll change.' They were very thoughtful about taking suggestions every step of the way. Sometimes with technology you build something that's only good from the technology side, so they were open to our client-side suggestions. It took a long time but it's going."
[Decision-Making Automation: The Next Financial Services Innovation]
"This project includes everyone at the firm, all departments, all clients" says Sabbia. "There are 226 individuals touching this work every day with a $100 million dollar budget. We're basically reopening every decision we’ve ever made and debating it again."
The new platform begins rolling out to 116 adviser teams on Tuesday, September 3, the day after Labor Day. The selected geographical regions piloting the platform will be flooded with training and support staff and those eager to relay feedback. From there, more regions will be rolled out through the summer of 2014 when all 11 Merrill Lynch markets will be trained.
Advisers will onboard all new clients to the new platform. At the end of 2015 all existing platforms used today will be sunset, meaning all existing clients must be switched over as well.
The teams expect to make several technology releases for the platform, particularly within the first few years. Among these are mobile capabilities, which were held off in the initial launch in favor of perfecting the platform and workflow at a workstation. "Even though the first phase won’t include mobile work the interface is built with mobile in mind so when time comes it will be seamless for advisers," says Sabbia. She says the platform was an evergreen investment, with constant opportunity to release new enhancements.
Developers are already working on integrating a number of projects inside the business that are not part of the September launch.