Insider Talk: Merrill Lynch For LGBT

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dot429 EXCLUSIVE

Bill Moran, financial advisor at Merril Lynch, is the man behind the first LGBT Financial Services Team on Wall Street. In this interview, originally published on February 1, 2011, he explains why LGBT financial services are important and how other companies can follow suit.

dot429: Merrill Lynch started the first LGBT Financial Services Team on Wall Street. How did it come about?  

Bill Moran: The LGBT Financial Services Team at Merrill Lynch, which we call the National Team, was founded eight years ago, and the originator was an advisor who used to work for Merrill Lynch in New York City. His sole practice at the time was exclusively in the LGBT space. During that time, we had a part of the firm that was referred to as Multicultural Marketing. The advisor who started the National Team reached out to the folks at Multicultural Marketing and said, “This is my idea, this is the opportunity in your space, and I’d like to look at how we could further develop my idea.”

Folks within Multicultural Marketing said, “We do have some financial advisors who are already doing work in the LGBT space and would like to do more.” So the genesis of the team was a couple advisors out of New York City, Washington DC, and Dallas, as well as one out of Chicago and one out of San Francisco. 

dot429: How big is the National Team today?

BM: The National Team is still made up of a small group of advisors, but the national network within Merrill Lynch is a couple hundred advisors at this time. 

dot429: What does it mean to be part of the national network?

BM: Members of the national network are on an email list. There is also training that the firm does both on the Merrill Lynch side and the US Trust side for financial advisors so that they understand the particular needs of the LGBT community as well as the services Merrill Lynch has developed to assist clients with those needs. 

dot429: Can you elaborate on what the specialized needs of the LGBT community are?

BM: The majority of the needs revolve around retirement and tax planning because at the federal level, LGBT couples are not recognized like married couples are. You do have nuances at some of the state levels, but at the federal level, you simply don’t have the same recognition. So you want to make sure that you’re addressing all the specific needs. For example, in retirement planning, if one partner predeceases another partner, the pension of the deceased may be dissolved, whereas with a straight couple, the pension would automatically go to the spouse. 

dot429: Are there any other financial firms that make a point of addressing specific needs of the LGBT crowd?

BM: I don’t know exactly what’s going on at the other firms, but I can say that Merrill Lynch has always been on the forefront. We are the first ones to have a National Team of this nature and the first ones to collaboratively come up with training materials for our financial advisors. We are the first to reach out to some of the national partners in LGBT non-profits. I know Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley have things going on, and Northern Trust just announced an LGBT practice within their organization. These firms are recognizing the need of the marketplace, and I commend them for doing so. 

dot429: Does the National Team organize any social activities or participate in community events?

BM: There are two different areas within the firm. There’s the National Team, which is a business team that addresses the financial concerns of the LGBT community. But also, within Bank of America at Merrill Lynch, we have the pride employee resource group (ERG). Within each of the ERG’s individual chapters, we organize events to promote things happening within the institution as well as community involvement. For example, the Washington DC chapter, which I’m a part of, worked last year with a local non-profit, Food and Friends. We had 37 volunteers who went out on a Saturday morning to deliver food to people suffering from HIV-AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. 

The National Financial Services Team does partner with national organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Trevor Project. We provide educational content to their members ranging from financial planning to making gifts to charities. A lot of folks don’t recognize the opportunities available to them, and we want to make sure they know.

dot429: Do you have advice for how people can go about starting an LGBT financial services team within their company?

BM: It has to be structured with the greater good of the community over the individual. All the members on my team are amazing individuals who create a sharing, caring environment. None of us are in competition with each other, and we want to make sure we’re delivering the best guidance to our clients. 

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