Bank of America has hired the 1,000 "financial solutions advisors" it wanted for its Merrill Edge program a few weeks ahead of schedule. But don't call their clients "mass affluent" investors any more.
Merrill Edge now calls the people it works with "preferred customers."
They used to be simply "mass affluent."
The difference is not all that subtle. "Preferred customer" obviously classifies the client within the Bank of America hierarchy. It's a bureaucratic tool for management as they try to steer everyone into one of their brokerage channels.
"Mass affluent," on the other hand, speaks directly to the client and his or her self-image. It makes the middle-class or upper-middle-class person feel good about themselves.
Bank of America has been finding enough of these people to justify doubling the number of customer service reps who work with them over the course of this year.
They now have 1,000 of what they call "financial service advisors" working the phones and bank lobbies.
The Gulf Coast was the last region to meet its hiring targets, but they ended up finding 65 people for Florida and another 60 for Texas -- not to mention 155 for the regional call center.
Another detail: the lower limit of what Bank of America considers "preferred" is rising.
Merrill Edge used to cater to anyone with $20,000 or maybe $25,000 to invest. Now the bar is set at $50,000.
Were the truly middle-class accounts just not coming around? Or is this some kind of inflationary tactic?