October 7, 2009

Merrill 'Bringing Back the Bull,' Says Sallie Krawcheck

Bank of America re-introduces Merrill Lynch in major ad campaign, cites "the importance of culture."

We all could use a little help. Help, and the "importance of culture at this organization," are what rising Wall Street star Sallie Krawcheck spoke of on October 5th at her first press conference as president of Global Wealth Management & Investment Management at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch is back, and they are trotting out the bull to prove it.

Bank of America is staking $20 million--in the fourth quarter alone--on its re-introduction of the Merrill Lynch brand, with a new ad campaign aimed at "affluent" investors--read as $250,000 and up--and high-net-worth investors. Merrill Lynch also has ultra-high-net-worth investors at the Private Bank and Investment Group and, of course, Bank of America owns U.S. Trust--and both entities serve ultra-high-net-worth and wealthy family clients.

Krawcheck is back in the spotlight after taking just under a year off when she left Citi in September 2008. She had been CEO and chairman of Citi Global Wealth Management.

The timing of that leave may mean that Krawcheck is fortuitously unencumbered by association with a Wall Street firm during the worst part of the economic and markets crisis--something that may help down the road as the bank considers departing CEO Ken Lewis's replacement.

Krawcheck wouldn't comment on that, but she's reportedly on the short list of nominees to fill that post. Whether she ultimately lands in the CEO seat or not, Krawcheck will have her hands full with nearly 15,000 reps at Merrill Global Wealth Management, the private bank, U.S Trust and the investment management arm of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The essence of the new Merrill lynch is an emphasis, says Krawcheck, on "one-to-one relationships" with clients, "putting clients first," delivering "personalized advice" that's "in their best interests." All of this boils down to a relationship with clients of "advocacy and trust," she emphasized.

This all sounds like the kind of personalized advice delivered by investment advisors--but according to Krawcheck, it's delivered by Merrill Lynch registered representatives--"financial advisors." So if that's what the new Merrill Lynch is about, then does that mean that the firm is embracing the fiduciary standard that is part of the proposed Investor Protection Act now being intensely debated in Washington, DC?

Not so, says Krawcheck. These are broker/dealer reps, not investment advisors, and they "put clients first, they're strong client advocates." She cautioned a reporter to be careful of rushing to judge that RIAs are "superior." Part of the Merrill Lynch culture is to "put clients first," she asserted.

To that end the new ad campaign "help2" portrays Merrill Lynch helping clients get back to investing: "help2 grow, help2 retire, help2 succeed, help2 cherish, and help2 make it last." It's a brilliant campaign, and it is sure to resonate with investors.

The Bank of America-Merrill Lynch combination is formidable and they seem to be tackling an area that has long been a thorny issue for financial supermarkets: referrals. Krawcheck notes that for the year-to-date there have been 43,000 referrals from "consumer [banking] into wealth management."

She explains that there is "significant opportunity" to sustain referrals for a long, long time: there are so many affluent consumers banking at Bank of America--those with $250,000 or more to invest--that the consumer bank could refer 25,000 customers--a month--into wealth management "for 50 years."

For more of the story, go to Wealth Manager online magazine.

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