When it comes to online investment brokerages, Bank of America (BoA) Merrill Lynch is a relative latecomer. The company launched its online brokerage platform, Merrill Edge, in 2010, more than a year after Bank of America completed its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Merrill Edge pivots toward more affluent clients, focusing on account holders with $100,000 to $250,000 in investable assets. Merrill Edge has a global client base of two million users. It also has an advisor network of 2,500 professionals in branch offices and call centers around the world. Drawing on financial professionals from nine separate investment-related disciplines, Merrill Edge provides access to unique and up-to-date in-house research. If you're the kind of person who likes to be hands-on with your investing, but who also knows that you don't have the time to actively monitor and trade, then Merrill Edge's Guided Investing service may be for you. After you fill out an online survey, your portfolio will be managed and rebalanced by a team of Merrill Lynch portfolio managers. With a minimum investment of $5,000 and a fee of just 0.45% per year, Guided Investing offers the best of both worlds with a managed account in an online brokerage. The advantages of Merrill Edge are its access to bonds and other fixed-income investments, sophisticated options trading tools, and extensive research and analytics. As a household name in personal finance, Merrill Lynch brings its full-service brokerage network to an online self-directed platform with Merrill Edge.
In addition to stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds, Merrill Lynch customers have direct access to bond markets and equity options, but only a small number of preconfigured complex strategies. Screeners for stocks, mutual funds, options, and bonds/CDs can help you find investments that best fit your criteria. In addition to creating your own stock screens, you can select from many professionally tuned, predefined screens. These screens are provided by the financial analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch as well as third-party partners, such as Morningstar and CFRA/S&P. If you're interested in trading futures or forex markets, you won't be able to use Merrill Edge for those purposes, but a Merrill Lynch financial advisor may be able to help you get access to these products from other parts of the company.
Merrill Edge is a member of FINRA and SIPC, so it is regulated for both equity and fixed-income markets. Although it's a large company with a solid reputation, Merrill's retail brokerage arm has been fined by regulators over the past few years for mishandling customer accounts. Still, this should not dissuade new or existing customers from using Merrill Edge, as the company seems to be taking these charges seriously and improving its quality of service accordingly.
Merrill Edge is backed by one of America's largest financial institutions, which gives the online brokerage instant credibility from the standpoint of investing. Potential customers who are concerned about the firm's recent regulatory impropriety may want to reflect on its 100-year-plus legacy before drawing any conclusions. What's more, Merrill Edge was ranked Best Online Broker of 2017 by Kiplinger's and has received consistently good reviews from Barron's over the past four years.
Merrill Edge offers a comprehensive suite of special features. One of the most popular is Face Retirement, a novel tool based on behavioral economics. After you submit a photo of yourself, the algorithm ages it to show how you'll look at retirement age. The aim of the tool is to persuade people to save for retirement earlier; research has shown that young people today notoriously under-save, and that younger people who are able to picture themselves later in life tend to save more. Another popular feature is MarketPRO, a standalone piece of professional trading software that is fully customizable and streamlined for the active trader. You're eligible for access if you trade at least 15 times per quarter or maintain total combined balances of $50,000 or more in your Bank of America banking and Merrill Edge investment accounts.
Merrill Edge has been at the forefront of technological innovation since its formative days. This reflects BoA/Merrill Lynch's strong commitment to technological innovation in its delivery of services. As an example, the firm's novel use of 3D technology allowed it to develop the Face Retirement tool in 2012, before it introduced the mobile app just a few years later. Beyond these fin-tech breakthroughs, Merrill Edge offers unique services to both active and passive investors. Whereas MarketPRO is geared toward active traders, a service like Guided Investing provides affordable portfolio solutions to investors who prefer a more actively managed account.
The Merrill Edge website has a traditional online brokerage layout with pages and tabs dedicated to the various products, features, tools, and functionality. The site is easy to navigate via its menus and by quick links. Executing trades is also straightforward and can be accomplished simply by clicking on the asset class and specifying the order. You will have a chance to preview the order before submitting it. Each asset class section also provides a breakdown of your account balance and holdings.
The Merrill platform is easy and intuitive to navigate. The platform (MarketPRO) is designed for advanced and active traders.
Users are only allowed to use MarketPRO if they have at least $50,000 combined balance or trade 15 times a quarter. There's also restrictions of Level II Quotes, these users must maintain a combined balance of $1 million or trade 30 times a quarter.
Available on iOS or Android, the Merrill Edge mobile app lets you trade from your device, access real-time quotes, and read news and basic research. With its integrated fingerprint security for logging in, you can be confident your accounts are safe even if you lose your device. However, the app lacks some useful features, such as interactive charts and screeners. For this reason, it is a less complete version of the desktop trader.
The mobile app has increased security features such as fingerprint authentication and other features. Users can also transfer funds from their mobile device, they don't need to log into the website to move money.
The mobile platform doesn't offer stock screeners and interactive charts. The app itself also has very mediocre ratings from iTunes and Google Play, 3.6/5 stars.
Customer service is available by phone or email 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and includes a dedicated TTY line for people with hearing impairments. In-person support is available during office hours at Merrill Lynch advisory locations or by phone through a financial advisor. On the downside, online real-time help via chat or social media is lacking.
Merrill Edge devotes considerable resources to its customer support division, as illustrated by the round-the-clock telephone support line. Automated phone services and email support are also easily accessible to account holders. Like other brokers, Merrill Edge has developed a comprehensive Help and Support web portal, where users are encouraged to review commonly asked questions and learn about essential account services. Despite lacking a live chat feature and social media presence, Merrill Edge offers many ways to stay in touch.
As part of a globally recognized, industry-leading brokerage, Merrill Edge puts a wide breadth of research and analytics at your disposal, including in-depth market news, daily movers, sector performance, and analysts' ratings. Interactive tools, screeners, and planning resources are also built into the platform. All these features can be accessed via the Research tab on the main dashboard. Markets are broken down by region (U.S. and foreign), and investment research is presented under five asset class categories.
While Merrill Edge provides an education section with basic information about investing and trading, in-depth tutorials and instruction are lacking. A bit more care is paid to the section on retirement planning education, which includes calculators to show how much money you must save to meet your needs when you retire. The Investor Education section allows you to navigate educational resources by investing experience (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), topic (such as asset class), and format (including articles, videos, and courses).
The Merrill Edge Education section provides a broad overview of basic investment principles, as well as tools and resources to help users set goals and plan for retirement. However, not all the resources are available on the immediate page or even written by BoA/Merrill Lynch, which means users must navigate to new pages to get the content. The education section contains dynamic webpages, where users are prompted to click on a topic before being redirected to a different portion of the page (or a different page altogether). This layout could be difficult for some users to follow.
Banking services are integrated via Bank of America, allowing you to easily link your Merrill Edge account for check writing and debit card transactions as well as for access to credit cards, loans, and mortgages. The My Financial Picture service, found under the Accounts menu, lets you link all your financial accounts and products - even external accounts not held at BoA Merrill Lynch - and view them in a combined dashboard that is essentially your own personal balance sheet. You can get a complete view of your net worth, including investment, bank, credit card, loan, mortgage, and retirement accounts, as well as track your spending and expenses.
One of the primary advantages of a Merrill Edge account is the seamless integration with one of America's largest banks. Merrill Edge users can connect full-spectrum banking services to their investment account. This essentially gives you a one-stop shop for all your banking and investing needs. Although Merrill Edge offers users the opportunity to link external accounts, opening a checking or savings account with BoA has other important benefits. Chief among them are real-time transfers between your bank account and investment account, single login capability, and access to a licensed Merrill Edge Financial Solutions Advisor at more than 2,000 BoA centers across the country.