Sieg to Thundering Herd: ‘Brian Loves the Merrill Brand’
Following headlines interpreting Bank of America’s business re-branding announcement on Monday as the death of the Merrill Lynch name, the company’s top wealth executive rushed out a memo Tuesday aimed at reassuring employees about the bank’s commitment to the name.
“The No. 1 brand in wealth management,” Merrill Lynch Wealth Management President Andy Sieg titled the seven-paragraph memo, quoting his boss, BofA Chief Executive Brian Moynihan.
“First, I want to share what Brian Moynihan told the Wall Street Journal,” Sieg wrote. “Brian said it was an ‘obvious,’ decision to keep the Merrill name.”
Many Merrill employees, along with much of the press, interpreted the removal of the Merrill Lynch name from the company’s investment banking businesses and other branding tweaks as “the end of an era” on Wall Street, to quote the Journal, Reuters and other news services.
Lost in many accounts of the rebranding was BofA’s decision to house the bulk of the more than 14,000 brokers who Sieg leads within a unit the bank still calls “Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.”
To be sure, the rebrand puts to death the U.S. Trust name for the private banking franchise that competes with some Merrill brokers for wealthy customers and has confused some insiders and the public by lifting “Lynch” from many of Merrill’s wealth management brands. And many Merrill advisers continue to believe that the BofA-ification of Mother Merrill aims to cleave wealthy customers to the bank rather than to them, and will ultimately lead to elimination of the Merrill name.
“The bull is the next to get castrated,” reads one prototypical comment on the AdvisorHub story about the rebranding.
Sieg’s memo counters such sentiments.
“Merrill Lynch Wealth Management remains our core full-service advisory business and will continue—along with our traditional bull logo—to be featured as such in all marketing materials, business cards and other collateral,” the executive wrote.
He did not mention that the new logo identifies Merrill as “A BANK OF AMERICA COMPANY,” with the appellation typographically displayed much more prominently than the old logo that described Merrill Lynch as a “Bank of America Corporation.”
“To think that they’re no longer an independent entity and are now one of many divisions at Bank of America is amazing,” said Mark Elzweig, a New York-based headhunter. “A lot of innovations in the retail world originated at Merrill Lynch.”
Bank of America spokesman Jerome Dubrowski said in an email that Sieg’s follow-on memo is “intended to continue the discussion around our brand, in line with our culture of talking to our employees, listening to their feedback and keeping them up to date.”
A Merrill broker who has spent over two decades at the firm said that most of his colleagues a day later seemed mostly confused by the rebranding effort, while another who similarly spoke on condition of anonymity described it as a “non-event.”
BofA’s rebranding announcement painstakingly outlined the wealth-spectrum capabilities of Merrill, ranging from its discount “Edge Self-Directed” and robo operations to the renamed “Merrill Private Wealth Management” unit of brokers who service households with $3 million at the firm and who used to be known as Merrill’s Private Banking and Investment Group.
While championing BofA’s commitment to the Merrill name, Sieg’s memo underscored his drive to have brokers sell more mortgages and loans to their customers, grow their list of wealth customers and refer less-remunerative relationships to the bank’s robo and self-directed brokerage channels.
“These changes are designed to bring to life everything we have to offer across Bank of America and Merrill—unprecedented resources, strength and capabilities in an unmatched platform,” Sieg wrote.