Less than two years ago, Bank of America selected Sallie Krawcheck, a veteran of both Sanford Bernstein and Citigroup, as the new head of its global wealth and investment management group, which had just come to include Merrill Lynch.
"I am excited that Sallie Krawcheck has agreed to join our company," said then-BofA Chairman and CEO Ken Lewis, in an August 2009 press release. "She is acknowledged to be one of the premier executives in the wealth-management industry. Her experience and perspective will lead that business to the next level." Lewis’ statement now seems to have been prescient.
Before leading BofA-Merrill’s wealth-management group – which now includes some 15,700 Merrill Lynch advisors, roughly 1,500 U.S. Trust advisors and about 3,100 other client-facing professionals – Krawcheck (left) was CEO of global wealth management at Citigroup, which included Smith Barney, the Citi Private Bank and also the Citi equity research division. She has also served as chief financial officer of Citigroup.
Prior to her work for Citi, she was chairman and chief executive officer of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., Inc., and an executive vice president of Bernstein's parent company, Alliance Capital Management.
When Krawcheck was brought on board in the second quarter of 2009, BofA reported that it had 15,008 advisors in its Merrill Lynch and legacy BofA wealth-management operations, down from 15,822 at the end of the first quarter of '09. Total client balances were about $1.8 trillion.
Today, assets under management are about $2.2 trillion, and the number of Merrill advisors has expanded by nearly 700 from when Krawcheck was hired. Such growth gives Krawcheck powerful ammunition when it comes to debunking what she says are “myths” about the wealth management industry – that advisors and clients are abandoning the wirehouse model.
In comments at the Investment Company Institute (ICI) annual conference in Washington, D.C., on May 5, she said, “At Merrill Lynch, the client attrition rate is in the low single digits, a level that most firms would publish as a point of pride.” She also pointed out that Merrill Lynch's advisors’ relationships with clients, “have endured, on average, 13 years, and one in four client relationships is 20-plus years in duration.”
In her paid and multiple volunteer positions, Krawcheck works to boost both the financial literacy of women and the number of women advisors. “Many people are surprised to learn that women hold more than half the nation’s wealth, comprise more than half of the workforce, are increasingly entrepreneurial, and women are also out-living men by an average of five to seven years,” she said at the recent ICI event.
In mid-June Merrill Lynch Wealth Management hosted a webinar titled “Women & Retirement” that featured Krawcheck. “Planning is hard – it’s no fun, and it’s painful, not relaxing,” explained Krawcheck during the June 16 event. “We love all of our clients equally,” she added later in the discussion, “but women tend to have relationships that last longer with an advisor.”
(Note: Melanie Waddell contributed to this article.)