NEW YORK, March 10 Merrill Lynch, whose army of
stockbrokers has shrunk almost 15 percent since it was bought by
Bank of America Corp five years ago, replaced or
transferred more than a dozen of its senior sales executives
last week as it seeks to increase productivity.
A Merrill spokesman insisted that there is nothing unusual
about the management changes that were announced internally by
John Thiel, the head of the wealth management and private
"This time of year we normally see a combination of natural
attrition, retirement and redeployment," he said, noting that
Wall Street managers typically leave after collecting bonuses
for the previous year.
However, several recruiters and Merrill advisers said the
long tenure of most of the executives who were shifted calls
attention to the changing nature of branch management jobs and
to a significant shift in the culture of the firm since the Bank
of America takeover.
Merrill Lynch has dominated U.S. wealth management through
much of its 100-year history. Until recently, officials boasted
that its executives were the only ones among the big U.S. firms
who began as Merrill brokers and understand the rank-and-file.
Thiel downplayed that lineage during a January interview with
Reuters, saying the executive lineup could change.
Merrill, and competitors such as Wells Fargo Advisors, UBS
and Morgan Stanley, in recent years have modified their sales
models, encouraging brokers to spend less time picking stocks
and bonds for clients and more time guiding them to money
managers and to bank colleagues for loans and other products.
They also gave incentives to the brokers to work with clients
who have at least $250,000.
As a result, branch and regional managers are spending more
time negotiating the bank bureaucracy and holding meetings on
new strategies than on motivating sales and recruiting which is
what drives their pay, said executive recruiters and advisers at
the firm who requested anonymity.
The most senior person to leave in the recent shift is
Christopher Dupuy, one of 11 national market executives Thiel
appointed to report directly to him after taking control of the
wealth unit two-and-a-half years ago, according to an internal
memo. DuPuy, who was in charge of the northwestern U.S. and was
based in San Franciso, left voluntarily, said several
well-placed Merrill sources. DuPuy could not be reached for
Thomas Fickinger, who had been in charge of recruiting, has
replaced Dupuy and is moving with his family from the East Coast
to San Francisco.
As previously reported, Chandler Root, another of the 11
regional executives, was transferred last month from San
Francisco to manage some branches in northern New Jersey and New
He was replaced as Southwest region executive by Kim Ruth,
who has no background in retail brokerage but has sold business
and corporate loans and services as Bank of America's state
president in Texas for the past 11 years.
In the memo to brokers last week, Thiel lauded Ruth as "an
accomplished leader who during her 25-year career in financial
services has demonstrated an intense client focus."
Some of the displaced sales executives were shifted to new
posts within the company and some were pushed into early
retirement, said several brokers and outside recruiters. One
joined arch-competitor UBS Wealth Management Americas, a unit of
UBS AG that is heavily populated with former Merrill
Lynch executives and run by former Merrill wealth boss Robert
The UBS migrant is William Cholawa, who once ran Merrill's
New England region and most recently was a senior strategist in
charge of "initiative management." A UBS spokesman said he will
begin in May as a director of a branch complex in New England.
Some of the management changes Merrill involve executives
who designed the new strategies that the firm is adapting. Riley
Etheridge, a top lieutentant to Thiel who oversees product and
sales management strategies, is now also running recruiting and
Three of the four people who reported directly to Etheridge,
including Cholawa, have changed roles or moved. Ted Durkin, who
developed products for affluent clients, is now back managing
brokers as head of several branches in Delaware and
Dwight Mathis, who oversaw training for new advisers, has
been moved to manage Merrill's branch in Pittsburgh and smaller
outposts nearby. The firm earlier announced that Racquel Oden
replaced him in the training post.
Susan Cruz, who had been in charge of the Pittsburgh branch
complex, and Carole Wentz, who oversaw 11 offices in the St.
Louis metropolitan region and was once national sales manager,
are taking positions that Merrill has not yet announced. Michael
Lawrence,a complex director in New Mexico, is taking Wentz's
post in St. Louis.
Alane Siem and Mark Sederquist, who were respectively the
heads of Merrill's complex of branches in Atlanta and in greater
Orange County, California, are moving to Bank of America's
Merrill Edge program. It services investors with less than
$250,000 through online and phone advice, or through brokers in
Bank of America branches.
Several veteran complex directors retired or have left the
firm without explanation. They include James Tighe in
Minneapolis, William Pike in northern New England, Merril Pyes
in Boston, Jesse Iglesias in Stamford, Conn, Jill Packard in New
Haven, Conn and Frank Beyer in Delaware, according to the
internal memo whose contents were confirmed by the Merrill
Some of the changes appear to be aimed at finding new
managers who can keep top brokers from leaving. Since Merrill's
sale to Bank of America, its broker count has declined by more
than 2,000 to under 14,000.
Merrill competitors, aware that retention packages given to
top advisers and managers in the wake of the 2009 merger expire
next year, are luring some advisers with packages that pay them
for the money they leave behind.
Merrill officials say much of the decline comes from
low-producing brokers who were asked to leave, and note they
have picked up senior advisers from competitors.
They also say that Merrill's record under Bank of America
speaks for itself. Though the brokerage force has shrunk,
attrition last year among the top 40 percent of advisers was at
historic lows and the firm generated record revenue. About 5,150
brokers brought in at least $1 million of fees and commissions
compared with 3,450 who reached that level in 2009, the first
year Merrill was owned by Bank of America.