Morgan Stanley (MS) said early Tuesday that its U.S. wealth management business is now branded Morgan Stanley Wealth Management (MSWM).
The joint venture between Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney came together in 2009, with Morgan Stanley having a 51% share and Citigroup (C) 49%. Two weeks ago, the two parties agreed that Morgan Stanley could increase its majority ownership of the venture and assume full control by June 2015.
With the name change, Morgan Stanley executives praised the effort’s results to date, while experts gave it more mixed reviews.
“Today, as we move under one name, we are culminating a three-year effort to integrate two outstanding franchises,” said Morgan Stanley Chairman and CEO James Gorman, in a press release. “The Smith Barney name stood for investment excellence for three-quarters of a century, and Morgan Stanley Wealth Management will provide the first-class service that has distinguished Morgan Stanley as a firm for more than 75 years.”
The venture was valued at $13.5 billion on Sept. 11. It included about 16,930 employee advisors as of June 30 with some $1.7 trillion in assets. The number of advisors as of the second quarter dropped 2% from March 30 and 6% from last year.
“The name change was not unexpected,” said Danny Sarch, president of the recruiting group Leitner Sarch Consultants (which works with several key rivals of Morgan Stanley), in an interview with AdvisorOne. “Finally, we have the culmination of what was not a joint venture, but a takeover. The name change is representative of what we all know to be the case.’
Others see it a bit more positively. “It’s a smart branding move for Morgan Stanley,” said Chip Roame, managing partner of Tiburon Strategic Advisors (which lists Citigroup as a client), in an interview. “They spend so much on advertising. It’s smart to leave no consumer confusion between the MS brand used by all its businesses and the MSSB brand.”
Both experts agree that name changes are just part of the game plan when two firms are brought together. But they are more divided on how the overall integration and leadership of the combined firm is faring—and where it is headed.
While others have been critical of Morgan Stanley, Roame says he’s “more generous.” In fact, the consultant gives it a “B” on the integration.