Ten to Watch: Lorna Sabbia

Ten to Watch: Lorna Sabbia

Consolidation Czar

In business as in life, it’s easy work to make things complicated. At Bank of America, Lorna Sabbia has a far more difficult job: She’s charged with making things simple.

In a move that will overhaul the wirehouse’s $438 billion managed accounts business, Sabbia is leading a 226-person team to consolidate five separate money management programs—Merrill’s Consults, Mutual Fund Advisor, Personal Advisor, Personal Investment Advisory and Unified Managed Account systems—into a single new platform. “There will be one set of documents, one contract, one workflow and one unified fee schedule,” Sabbia says.

Starting with an initial pilot rollout this September, Merrill’s 15,000 advisors and 1.4 million clients will see the new platform phase in over the next 26 months, with the firm planning to drop the five individual platforms by the end of 2015.

“When you think about doing any change, the impact is huge—huge to both clients and advisors,” Sabbia says. The long lead-time should allow advisors to smoothly incorporate the new platform into their practices.

While the execution is new, the idea isn’t—the consolidation strategy has been around for years, Sabbia says. Everyone wants to make the client experience better. But many times it’s easier, and cheaper, to build new. 

Bank of America dusted off the project when Sabbia stepped into her role 22 months ago. “I walked into the role with a promise already in place,” she says.

Yet her leadership was only part of the equation, Sabbia says. The timing of the initiative was a result of a number of stars aligning, including getting funding for the $100 million project, she says. “If it were easy, the entire industry would have done it years ago.”

“It’s a highly overdue step in the right direction,” says Alois Pirker, Aite Group’s research director. “After decades of adding complexity and multiple silos, it’s nice to see consolidation. The move will show the industry, this is how you do it.”

It also makes good business sense, Pirker says. The new platform will operate on a more cost-effective basis in the long run. It’s a strategy that the rest of the business is likely to replicate, he added.

“More firms will try to find a way to do it,” Sabbia agrees. As for Bank of America, Sabbia believes the new platform will boost the brokerage’s robust roster of investment strategies while providing simplicity and transparency.  “This project allows us a much clearer path to innovate,” she says.

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