Merrill Bleeds More Brokers at HQ Office, to Morgan Stanley’s Benefit
(Corrects 12th paragraph to remove reference to Andy Sieg being quoted in Merrill’s ads. He was quoted in a press release about the campaign, but not directly in an ad.)
Another group of Merrill veterans who had worked at the firm’s headquarters office in downtown New York have joined Morgan Stanley.
Brian G. O’Connor, Mary Ann (“Missy”) Long and Kevin M. Murray, who had each been with Merrill for two decades, left the firm’s branch at 2 World Financial Center on Friday for Morgan Stanley’s midtown 1290 Avenue of the Americas branch on Friday, said a team member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The three generated a combined $3 million in production and managed around $600 million in mostly ultra-high-net-worth client assets, the source and two others advisors at Merrill and Morgan Stanley said. O’Connor and Murray are longtime partners who previously worked with Long’s now-retired father.
The team’s departure reflects dissatisfaction with changes at Merrill since its 2009 takeover by Bank of America and, to some extent, the firm’s decision to prohibit brokers from charging commissions on individual retirement accounts, the sources said.
The downtown Manhattan “flagship branch,” as it calls itself on its website, has been particularly vulnerable. Seven other multi-million dollar producers have left the Liberty Street/WFC branch since December, including solo practitioners and teams. Five of the seven joined Morgan Stanley.
Other metropolitan New York branches have lost at least 11 advisors in recent months, eight of whom went to Morgan Stanley.
A Merrill spokeswoman confirmed the departures of O’Connor, Murray and Long, but declined further comment.
The exit occurred on the same weekend that Merrill unveiled a nationwide advertising campaign reviving the firm’s iconographic “Merrill is bullish” slogan. “We’re bullish on the future – yours,” the new print, digital and radio ads declare, differentiating themselves from Merrill’s classic “bullish on America” campaigns. In addition to touting Merrill’s ability to connect clients to just the right member of its 14,000 brokerage force, Merrill’s new imaging promises to give clients advice and guidance across its parent’s banking and web channels, including “online, in person or through our app.”
The ads, which will unfold in two stages from now through December, piggyback on Merrill’s attempt last year to differentiate itself from rivals by proclaiming that its abolition of retirement account commissions and adoption of a fiduciary standard show its commitment to working in clients’ best interests and abandoning the status quo.
In a fast-moving world in which “technology, politics, demographics [are] all constantly altering course,” Merrill has “pioneered a unique, more personal approach to investing: One that puts the interests of our clients first,” the new ads say. “It starts by being open and transparent about what we do. We’ll explain the services you’ll get and, just as importantly, what you’ll pay for them.”
Whether Merrill executives can resolve the tensions between transparency to customers about pricing without alienating advisors is being closely watched.
Andy Sieg, the new head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, must work to appease brokers while remaining obedient to the dictates of his Bank of America bosses. One reason that the firm adopted the hard-line policy against commissions in retirement accounts is that such accounts are more vulnerable to class-action lawsuits under the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, something the bank that was battered by financial-crisis lawsuits is determined to avoid.
Sieg’s challenge was further underlined by a proxy statement the bank filled on Monday, promising Bank of America investors that its wealth businesses will “drive growth through additions of advisors and other client-facing professionals” as part of the bank’s “integrated business model.”
O’Connor started his career at First Investors Management Company in 1991 but joined Merrill Lynch after less than a year, according to his Financial Industry Regulatory Authority BrokerCheck report. Murray started his career at Merrill in 1994, and Long began her career at the firm in 1997, according to BrokerCheck.