Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s hybrid online/in-person service for mass-market clients, Merrill Edge, is planning to double its number of financial advisors by the end of 2016, Aron Levine, head of Preferred Banking and Merrill Edge Investing at Bank of America, told Financial Advisor Magazine on Monday.  

The move would put one Merrill Edge financial advisor in 3,000 of Bank of America’s 5,000 branches. There are currently 1,500 Merrill Edge advisors within BofA's retail branch network. Merrill Edge, which targets customers with $50,000 to $250,000 in investible assets, was formed in 2010.

Levine said the expansion has two primary goals. First, to provide clients with the face-to-face financial support they seek and can’t get from pure-play web advisory companies.

And second, to expose them to Bank of America Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust services as they attain more assets and their personal wealth grows. Private bank U.S. Trust was acquired by BofA in 2007 and Merrill Lynch was bought one year later.

Levine said it would be easier and more effective to convert Merrill Edge clients into Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust customers through personal marketing investment support rather than strictly online selling.

Advisors to be hired for Merrill Edge’s growth spurt will be mostly young trainees and professionals with eight to 10 years in the business. Levine said the experienced advisors are not being sought to bring clients with them from competitors. He added the growth in staff will be accompanied by a wider array of products.

Merrill Edge’s expansion comes as the unit has seen assets under management climb to $106 billion from $45 billion in 2010. Levine is forecasting a doubling of AUM in three to five years.

Levine said Merrill Edge Select Portfolios, which enable customers to invest in a wide range of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, have surpassed $2 billion in assets under management in less than four years.