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UPDATE: BofA Merrill Lynch’s Thiel Restructures U.S. Wealth Management

Bank of America Merrill Lynch wealth management executive John Thiel's new plan to restructure the firm’s U.S. wealth management business should help the firm better serve and acquire high net worth and instituional clients, according to at least one analyst.

In the memo obtained by On Wall Street Wednesday, Thiel, who was promoted to head of U.S. wealth management and private banking and investments group in April, outlined a new structure including 11 new regional markets.

The new structure aims to better address clients’ needs and reduce management layers. The move echoes efforts to streamline Bank of America’s management ranks earlier this month that sent Thiel’s former boss and top wealth management executive Sallie Krawcheck from the firm.

Thiel’s decision to shuffle the regional markets, which will include both U.S. wealth management and private banking and investments, comes after months of “extensive conversations with clients, advisors and leaders,” Thiel said in his memo. The group previously had four national divisions.

“It enables us to take a closer look at the real needs of clients across the wealth spectrum and give them whatever they need to reach their goals -- taking full advantage of what it means to be a part of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America,” Thiel said in the memo.

Less Layers To Jump

Financial services research firm Aite Group’s Research Director Alois Pirker heard the news from Thiel first hand on Wednesday in a meeting in New York. Thiel was enthusiastic about the moves, Pirker said, which he said had been in the works for months.

Thiel, who was selected by Krawcheck to also serve as head of U.S. wealth management five months ago, came up through the ranks after having served as a financial advisor. The new appointments with the restructuring also come from a financial advisor background, which should be “well received” within the organization, Pirker said.

The move also brings Thiel closer to the wealth management business, Pirker said, and closer to clients in certain demographics by clearly defining them. One of the primary goals mentioned in Thiel’s memo is tailoring strategies to affluent, ultra high net worth and institutional clients.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch will define those affluent clients as those with $250,000 to $10 million, and the ultra high net worth with more than $10 million, the memo said.

The sharpened leadership hierarchy can also pay off beyond lean times by allowing a big company to be nimble, according to Pirker.

“Clearly the markets are moving very fast these days, and having a very direct line to the field, not having multiple layers to jump, is something that pays off,” Pirker said, citing Google Inc. as an example. “We’ve seen that in various fields.”

New Structure, New Roles

With the new structure, each of the 11 markets will be led by one executive that will oversee the firm’s work with affluent, ultra high net worth and institutional clients in that region. That executive will report to Thiel, who will continue to oversee the financial performance of both the U.S. wealth management and private banking and investment units.

The 11 new market leaders include: Brett Bernard, for the mid East region; Chris Dupuy, Pacific Northwest; Linda Houston, New England; Paul Lambert, mid America; Bill Lorenz, mid Atlantic; Jeff Markham, Greater Texas; Sabina McCarthy, New York City metro; Don Plaus, south Atlantic; Jeff Ransdell, Southeast; Jodi Rolland, heartland; and Chandler Root, southwest.

At the same time, Riley Etheridge will assume the newly-created role of head of client solutions and segments, also reporting to Thiel. In that role, Etheridge will lead the operating strategy development and client segment plans. Etheridge currently serves as private banking and investments group region executive for the metropolitan and mid-atlantic regions.

In his new role, Etheridge now has four executives reporting to him. They include: Bill Cholawa, head of capacity and initiative management; Tedd Durkin, head of affluent client solutions; Scott Hotham, head of institutional client solutions; and Phil Sieg, head of ultra high net worth client solutions.

Thiel also announced in his memo that Western Division Director Greg Franks has decided to retire from the firm.


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