Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit plans to recruit as many as 500 Series 7 licensed financial solutions advisors to man its branches in key markets over the next three years, augmenting its Merrill Edge call center. The bank has hired 100 so far.

These advisors are salaried, just like the officers manning the call centers, so they don't compete for business with Merrill Lynch's full-service financial advisors. Somewhat like platform reps, they'll be able to sell bank products as well as investments to clients who don't meet Merrill Lynch's $100,000 threshold to work one-on-one with a full-service Merrill Lynch advisor, says Sophie Schmitt, senior analyst at Aite Group in Boston. Schmitt is the author of a new report on the bank's brokerage model, which is controversial or forward-thinking, depending who you speak to.

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