Bank of America (BAC) proudly refers to itself as the “Walmart of banks.” And that is understandably enough to strike terror in the hearts of Merrill Lynch folks, who are prefer to shop at Barney’s.
The most-devastating culture clash detail so far? Mortified Merrill bankers now having to ride the elevators with armies of Bank of Americans wearing cheap suits and flag pins in their lapels.
Next thing you know, Ken Lewis will demand an across-the-board pay cut.
But after Merrill rushed to sell itself to Bank of America Corp. in September, Mr. Kirby fretted that a mass-market “bank culture” would overcome the higher-end, bigger-spending culture of Mother Merrill. He soon left to join the brokerage arm of Swiss bank UBS AG.
But Mr. Kirby’s experience shows some of the struggle that awaits Bank of America as it tries to integrate Merrill’s 60,900 employees. The culture clash may be most pronounced with Merrill’s “thundering herd” of 16,850 stock brokers, a group with a fierce independent streak that isn’t afraid to gripe to extract better terms from an employer.
About half of Merrill’s brokers were offered bonuses to stay on, and Friday is the deadline for accepting the offer. As of late Thursday, 90% of them had already signed on, people familiar with the firm say.
Still, for the denizens of the 94-year-old Merrill Lynch, which long prided itself on its fleet of top producing brokers, it has been hard stomaching the new edicts from the Charlotte, N.C., bank. BofA prides itself on a Main Street approach, having expanded via $100 billion worth of acquisitions over the past five years, making it the nation’s largest bank by assets.
Merrill staffers joke nervously that Bank of America employees are recognisable in the elevators by their cheap suits and American-flag lapel pins. “There’s a huge cultural clash between Merrill and Bank of America,” says Darin Manis, a brokerage recruiter at R.J. & McKay LLC in Colorado Springs, Colo.
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