Will the Smith Barney name go the way of A.G. Edwards, Bear Stearns, and other brokerages whose historic identities were sublimated following acquisitions by larger firms? The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) today writes that Morgan Stanley is considering new names for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the 18,000-advisor retail brokerage joint venture it created in a deal with then-Smith Barney owner Citigroup, back in 2009. Citing unnamed sources, the Journal article says the firm is floating six different titles past MSSB clients, all of which include “Morgan Stanley,” and none of which include “Smith Barney.” A Morgan Stanley spokesman told Registered Rep. that the company regularly surveys clients on its brand, “so I would not read a whole lot into this.”
One Midwest advisor on the Smith Barney side thinks the handwriting has been on the wall for some time. “It was bound to happen, even though you might not want the name to go away,” he said. “Morgan Stanley bought us. It’s just the way it works. Is it a good thing? Talk to marketing people about that. Are people that worked for Smith Barney going to miss the Smith Barney name? Absolutely.”
But there’s an upside too, he says: A new name might be a little easier to manage. “Because to say to my clients, ‘I work for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney,’ that’s just a mouthful. It just is. All the receptionists and assistants are required to answer the phone, ‘Hello, good morning, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney,’ as opposed to, ‘Good morning, Morgan Stanley.’ ”
Morgan Stanley took a 51 percent stake in the joint venture with Citigroup, which closed in June 2009. Last fall Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman indicated the investment bank planned to eventually purchase the rest of the venture; the deal would allow Morgan Stanley to buy larger stakes over several years, with the next stake eligible to close in 2012.
The consolidation of the Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney operations has been proceeding apace. The Midwest advisor said he is looking forward to a new consolidated computer system later this year that will replace Smith Barney’s outdated platform. Morgan Stanley isn’t pushing Smith Barney advisors to market Morgan Stanley investment products, he added, and his clients aren’t disposed to jump to another firm.