Merger Doubles B of A's Brokerage Force

Recruiters who have spoken with Bank of America's management say the firm is gearing up for more hires and an expansion of its brokerage unit once the bank combines operations with FleetBoston. B of A recently announced it would acquire the Boston-based bank, giving it a long-coveted presence in the Northeast. For the brokerage arm, however, the strategic and geographic impact of the merger isn't

Recruiters who have spoken with Bank of America's management say the firm is gearing up for more hires and an expansion of its brokerage unit once the bank combines operations with FleetBoston.

B of A recently announced it would acquire the Boston-based bank, giving it a long-coveted presence in the Northeast.

For the brokerage arm, however, the strategic and geographic impact of the merger isn't so clear.

In the past, B of A has been viewed as a half-hearted player in the retail brokerage business. That started to change last year when the firm hired Alan Schroder, a Morgan Stanley vet, to head up the expansion of its brokerage group. He responded by bringing over a couple of Morgan underlings.

Currently, B of A has $90 billion in client assets — a figure dwarfed by major players such as Morgan Stanley, with $500 billion. The combination of Bank of America and Fleet's brokerage arm, Quick & Reilly, would create a sales force of approximately 2,000, significantly smaller than some other large players owned by a bank, including Citigroup's Smith Barney and Wachovia Securities. Meanwhile, Fleet's Quick & Reilly has had its own growing pains transitioning to a full-service brokerage from its discount roots.

B of A has been getting more assertive in recruiting efforts, having hired 164 advisors in the first three quarters of this year, and it's looking for similar things as wirehouse firms: brokers with at least 30 percent of their business annuitized, and production of around $400,000 a year. Still, at least one recruiter says that less experienced brokers with $200,000 in production will not be ruled out entirely by the bank.

“They really are talking rather aggressively and forward-mindedly,” says one executive recruiter, who asked to remain anonymous. “It's very early to say what they're going to do, but we believe their commitment is going up, not staying the same or going down.”

Bank of America officials declined comment.

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