The number of financial advisors earning the Retirement Benefit Consultant designation from Merrill Lynch has grown 25 percent annually for the past two years.

In 2010, Merrill Lynch started the program to recognize advisors with significant experience serving employers’ retirement benefit plans.

By the end of 2011, an initial group of 135 advisors had earned this designation, according to the firm. During the last two years the group has grown 25 percent annually to 210 advisors across more than 100 advisor teams.

Combined, these designated advisors oversee approximately $45 billion in 401(k) plan assets across more than 3,100 plans.

To be considered for designation, advisors must meet certain criteria including experience working with corporate retirement plan clients, as well as product and technical expertise, says Merrill Lynch. Those meeting these criteria then complete a nomination and application process, along with interviews with a panel of leaders from across the firm. In addition, advisors must attend education programs and maintain certain industry certifications in order to keep the designation.