BofA rolls out Merrill Lynch campaign

Bank of America Corp. announced Monday a new advertising campaign for the Merrill Lynch wealth management brand, a part of the business that bank CEO Ken Lewis once called the “crown jewel.”

The help2 campaign, which is running on TV and in newspapers, is meant to speak plainly to clients who are still nervous about their financial future. Merrill’s iconic bull is a prominent feature.

“One thing I heard in joining the organization was, “Well, what about the bull?'” said Sallie Krawcheck, a former Citigroup executive who joined Bank of America in August to run the wealth and investment management unit. She spoke to reporters Monday morning from Bank of America’s New York offices at One Bryant Park.

The campaign is meant to appeal not just to clients but also to Merrill’s famous “thundering herd” of financial advisers. They were a key reason for Bank of America’s decision to purchase Merrill, and the bank is eager to retain them. Krawcheck noted concerns about turnover among the advisers, but said that more than 80 percent of revenue comes from employees who started their careers there.

She said the bank has been adding financial advisers ? a net of 46 last week ? and now has about 14,700. A year ago, when Bank of America announced it was buying Merrill, the New York investment firm had about 17,000 advisers. Bank of America had an additional 2,000.

Krawcheck, who is responsible for blending the sometimes-opposing cultures of Bank of America and Merrill advisers, said the bank hasn’t decided how many financial advisers it ultimately will need. But, she said, she’s focused on quality over quantity.

Claire Huang, who heads marketing for Bank of America’s wealth management and related units, said the advisers have been the bank’s heroes in a difficult year.

“Our brand has been hit hard by all the media and the press and the understandable issues that are everywhere,” Huang said in an interview. “But the one thing that hasn’t been hit hard is the image of our financial advisers. … People who got help from our financial advisers really felt good about the advice that we gave them.”

In the eyes of many analysts, the financial advisers who came from legacy Bank of America are inferior to their Merrill Lynch peers. But Huang called the Bank of America advisers “highly performing.”

“They’ve been welcomed wholeheartedly by the Merrill Lynch team,” she said. “They’re definitely not stepchildren.”

Bank of America is spending about $20 million on the help2 campaign, also known as “help to the second power,” for the fourth quarter.

In the New York news conference, Krawcheck declined to comment on speculation that she could be in the running to replace CEO Lewis, who resigned last Wednesday. “I don’t really want to comment on it at all except to say I’m here because I love the wealth management business,” she said.

But she did shed some light on her decision to join Bank of America. Krawcheck had held chief financial officer and wealth management posts at Citigroup before departing last year after a reported rift with CEO Vikram Pandit. She joined Bank of America in August, on the same day the bank announced Liam McGee, formerly the consumer banking head, would leave. McGee was once seen as a successor to Lewis.

Krawcheck said she went running on a Friday in July when she got a call asking if she could talk to Sandy Weill, the former Citi CEO. Weill asked her if she would entertain a call from Bank of America.

“Of course I’d been sitting home on the sofa for the better part of a year, so I had the advantage of having thought long and hard” about what the wealth management industry should look like, Krawcheck joked. “… My kids, who are teenagers, wanted very little to do with me, so it was a lonely 10 months.”

Krawcheck had already studied Bank of America, both as a competitor and as a financial analyst, and was impressed. She talked to Lewis the following Monday, and was at work a week later.

Krawcheck is based in New York but said she’s been down to Charlotte “every couple of weeks” since starting her new job. Krawcheck, who grew up in South Carolina and graduated from UNC, said she’s “probably the biggest UNC basketball fan on the planet.”

She said her background makes her suited for her new position: “I speak wealth management, I speak bank, and I speak Southern.”

(c) 2009, The Charlotte Observer. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.