UPDATE 1-Baer seen close to buying Merrill's non-US wealth units
By Douwe Miedema and Joseph A. Giannone
LONDON/NEW YORK Aug 10 (Reuters) - Julius Baer is close to an agreement to acquire Bank of America's Merrill Lynch wealth management business outside the United States, two people familiar with the situation said, a deal that could expand the Swiss private bank's client assets by 50 percent.
A deal could be announced as early as Monday, the sources said. One of the sources said that Baer could pay up to $2 billion for the unit, which manages some $90 billion for clients in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.
"An announcement is expected within a couple of days now," one of the people said, asking not to be named. Bank of America and Julius Baer declined to comment.
Bank of America is the world's largest wealth manager with more than $2 trillion of client balances across several businesses, but its presence outside the United States is more modest.
Baer, which has no other business outside private banking, said in June that it was in talks to buy the Bank of America unit, though it declined to say whether it wanted to buy all or part of the business.
Four other sources briefed on the transaction said Bank of America intends to retain advisers who are based in the United States but who advise offshore clients from Latin America. These brokers would be absorbed into their respective regions under Merrill's domestic U.S. wealth management unit.
Bank of America does not disclose how many of Merrill's 16,151 financial advisers, or client balances, are outside the U.S.
One of the sources estimated that 350 to 400 U.S. based advisers are engaged in the "non-resident client" business and generate more than $200 million in revenue annually. Merrill discloses nothing about its non-U.S. business except that it offers brokerage and investment services in 40 countries.
Baer has been making efforts to ensure that Merrill's most productive advisers stick around after a deal. The Swiss bank's executives in recent weeks conducted a "road show" in Panama and other Latin American markets, touting the advantages of the combination, one broker recruiter said.
Also, Baer is expected to continue paying Merrill's brokers using the "grid" compensation system common in the United States. European wealth managers pay advisers a salary plus bonus. Brokers in the U.S. receive no salary, but can earn more money than their European counterparts, because they keep 35 percent to 40 percent of their commissions and fees.
Recruiters who spoke with Merrill international advisers say brokers there have been standing pat until the details of a sale are announced. Acquirers in wealth management deals typically offer productive advisers lucrative retention packages - often two times their trailing year's revenue.
Reuters reported in April that BofA had put its wealth management unit outside the United States up for sale as the business was not large enough to generate sufficient income.
If Baer were to buy the entire non-U.S. business from Bank of America, it would increase assets under management by about 50 percent, from the 179 billion Swiss francs ($184 billion) the bank reported with its half-year numbers in July.
The second-largest U.S. bank has said previously that it wants to cut costs and raise capital in part by selling businesses.
BofA has lagged its U.S. banking rivals in recovering from the financial crisis, largely because of huge credit losses and lawsuits tied to its 2008 takeover of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial.
Baer is also an obvious suitor for Generali's BSI private banking unit, two sources familiar with the matter said last month, as it has considered buying the business in the past.
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