Bank of America Merrill Lynch this year will double the number of institutional trading forums it operates, putting on about two dozen.

Merrill’s forums, called Think Tanks, bring together about 30 or 40 buyside traders—head traders or senior traders—to discuss such issues as market structure changes, order handling, sales trader coverage and transaction cost analysis.

Currently, Merrill runs one Think Tank a month. This year, it will step that up.

“We expect to run one every two weeks somewhere in the U.S.,” Rod Burns, Merrill’s head of West Coast portfolio products, told Traders Magazine. “They’re very popular.”

The big broker has been running these forums since September 2008. They were started and are still run by Lee Morakis, Merrill’s head of Global Instinct Knowledge. They take place in major U.S. cities and are being expanded globally this year, according to a Merrill executive.

The forums typically take place during the evenings and are led by staffers in Merrill's equity and derivatives departments. The discussions focus on three to four issues facing traders and open with 10 to 15 polling questions. Polling is done by an independent electronic service.

One of the hotter topics these days is the so-called ‘hybrid’ model whereby a single sales trader may handle a buyside trader’s high-touch and low-touch flow.

The benefit of the forums, according to Merrill executives, is the sharing of information among buyside traders. Because they don’t always talk with their peers, the forums give them a chance to interact.

The forums delve into ‘best practices,’ according to Morakis. “One of the biggest questions we get,” he noted “is: What are our other clients doing? Am I doing what the other clients are doing?”

Merrill is not the only organization to put on trader forums. Rosenblatt Securities recently informed its clients that it would be doing a series of regional “roadshows” this year. The granddaddy of all buyside gatherings is ‘Trader Forum,’ a quarterly get-together that has been put on by Institutional Investor magazine.

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