Attracted to Merrill Lynch by its promise of a positive wealth management experience, a new client was expecting quality when he opened his account. He also got quantity. In his first 90 days as a client, he received a small avalanche of mail, which he promptly hauled down to his broker’s office in protest.

There is often a disconnect between what a company says in its promotional materials and ads and the experience it actually creates for its customers. Merrill Lynch, the world’s largest brokerage firm, takes pride in the extraordinary quality and range of its offering. But until recently, the company was also taking complaints from otherwise satisfied clients about the deluge of paperwork and the complexity of processes to which they were subjected in the first few months after opening their accounts.

Merrill’s legacy account-opening system prescribed a separate set of disclosures and forms for every account opened, even in the same household. Since virtually every client opened multiple accounts—a basic brokerage account for each spouse, a retirement account or educational savings accounts for each child—the paper generated for just one household was overwhelming. Equally formidable, and costly, were the underlying back-office processes at Merrill.

The company sought help to simplify both the paperwork and processes. We recommended that Merrill replace the existing suite of 14 preprinted publications and 30 generic letters with a personalized Owner’s Manual—a single, visually consistent and personalized client guide combining preprinted components and variable information. All account confirmations, disclosures and program descriptions were moved to this single print-on-demand document and, in collaboration with Merrill attorneys, written in plain English. Information was logically sequenced to track the preferences and practices of Merrill’s financial advisors, and the word count was reduced by almost half. Also greatly reduced were Merrill’s costs for production, fulfillment and printing.

The end result of this simplification effort? A much warmer welcome for Merrill Lynch clients in their first experience with the firm, and a much simpler and more intelligent introduction to the wealth management experience they were promised – not to mention significant cost savings for Merrill.

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