Sallie Krawcheck, the recently installed head of wealth management at Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, said that the road ahead would not be easy for the few large brokerage firms left.
“We have a lot of work to do as an industry,” said Krawcheck, whose official title is BoA president of global wealth and investment management. A handful of large players will lead the industry in the right directions, she said at a press breakfast this morning at Bank of America Tower in midtown Manhattan.
Krawcheck began the meeting by joking that she won’t talk about the one thing everyone else wanted to talk about—a reference to the sudden resignation last week of Ken Lewis, the embattled Bank of America president and chief executive officer. Still, she partially answered a related question about her name surfacing as a possible successor to Lewis. When she heard the news about Lewis, she said she asked her husband: “Is it me, am I a CEO repellent?” Beyond that, she declined to comment.
Instead, Krawcheck focused on the future of BofA and Merrill’s wealth management unit. Krawcheck noted that Merrill is attracting new advisers. It hired a net total of 46 new financial advisers last week. And in the previous four-week period, there were 135 new hires, she said.
Krawcheck noted that the trend of advisers migrating toward the independent channel has been reversed over the past year, she said. The independent channel actually shrunk last year, according to BoA internal research. She said the reason that channel lost ground could be “summed up in two words: Bernie and Madoff.” Investors have grown wary of the lone adviser hanging their shingle, she said, and instead look for peace-of-mind from a large firm with broad wealth management capability.
Bank of America, she insisted, is well poised for the future of wealth management, and it will include the iconic Merrill Lynch bull logo. BoA will re-launch the Merrill Lynch Wealth Management brand complete with the famous bull logo and an advertising blitz across television, radio and print publications over the next three months. Along with the bull, Merrill Lynch is launching a “help2” campaign, highlighting how financial advisers can help clients through this period and reach their financial goals.
Krawcheck’s presentation also included the debut of Merrill’s “Affluent Insights Quarterly,” an investment survey of Americans with $250,000 in investable assets. In that survey, the top financial issue for investors was “rising healthcare costs or expenses,” with 75% of the respondents saying it was important. The next most important issue was the “impact of the economy on my ability to meet financial goals” with a much-lower 58% ranking. Nearly half the respondents (48%) currently work with a financial adviser (not necessarily at Merrill) and of those, 79% are happy with that person, according to the survey.
Lyle LaMothe, head of U.S. wealth management for BoA, which also includes the Merrill advisers, was also at the meeting. He said: “Today is a great day… and the mood is good,” regarding the potential of the firm and the fact that the bull is back in full force.
Gerri Leder, president of Baltimore-based financial marketing firm LederMark, agreed that it’s good for Merrill advisers. “This is a time when financial advisers need the support and momentum of a strong brand,” she said. Firms need to spend money “to support their financial advisers who have been beat up over the past year,” Leder added.