What's Behind Virtuoso's Merrill Lynch Partnership

Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch
Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch

Luxury Travel Advisor got a chance to attend a press conference with Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch on the company's new retirement planning partnership with Merrill Lynch, and how the arrangement draws on changing travel demographics and the evolution of the role of a travel agent. 

"If you look at the evolution of the profession of travel agent into travel advisor, what's been remarkable is the overlap with the evolution of stockbroker into financial advisor," Upchurch said. 

"We've been on a parallel path," agreed David Tyrie, head of retirement and personal wealth solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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Tyrie pointed to this evolution as being driven in part by demographic trends, as aging Baby Boomers have grown to represent 74 percent of the net worth in the United States. 

"These Boomers have changed every industry they've ever touched, and they're changing retirement," said Tyrie. 

Financial services had traditionally been an opportunity to sit with an advisor and figure out goals. Merrill Lynch's research, however, pointed to an appetite for a more holistic approach among Boomers. The result was Merrill Lynch Clear, a retirement platform that focuses on seven life priorities, one of which is leisure travel. 

Under the new partnership Virtuoso provides Merrill Lynch clients with travel services through a dedicated Virtuoso Affiliated Advisor. Merrill Lynch clients also have access to Virtuoso’s exclusive benefits and specialty partners, including luxury resorts and experiences.

"What really makes someone an advisor is the collaborative nature of the conversation," said Upchurch. "It's not about the transaction." 

A collaborative relationship allows advisors to focus on the feeling of the trip, provide support when things go wrong and reconnect after the trip has been complete. The Merrill Lynch partnership is designed to foster this type of relationship between a Virtuoso advisor and a new client. 

"This is the first relationship that we've ever had where the primary introduction to the Merrill Lynch client is not, 'Here is someone to book your trip,'" said Upchurch. "It's, 'Here are true advisors that you can have a relationship with.'"

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