Unlocking Real Value Blog

Why Can’t BofA Merrill Get it Right?

With all of the money that BofA Merrill likely spends on PR and advertising, it amazes me that they can’t control their corporate message better – at least as far as their wealth management unit is concerned.

Yesterday’s Investment News is another example of this phenomenon, where an article entitled “Grumbling Herd Complains About Cross-Selling” appeared. I have blogged about this topic before – old Merrill Lynch brokers feel that their parent is pressuring them to sell BofA products such as mortgages and credit cards – and many don’t like it. (I use the word broker here, even though I don’t like it, because the article does.)

The headline is negative as are many of the unidentified brokers that “grumbled.” Not in the headline are the few brokers that also commented in the article that they actually like having these addition products to sell and that they feel that being able to address their client’s liabilities is actually a competitive advantage.

Reality is that whenever a bank buys a brokerage – or in any merger for that matter – there will always be some pressure to cross-sell. Whether we like it individually or not, it makes sense from a corporate point of view. In fact, whether you want to sell these additional products or not, it certainly makes sense to let clients know that you have the ability to sell them – an additional arrow in your quiver.

So what is the problem here? The problem is that BofA has sidestepped the issue rather than address it head on, and therefore the media and some of its more vocal brokers are controlling the issue. As an outsider, we don’t really know how much pressure is being put on brokers to cross-sell. There are always two sides to every story. But we do know that the company’s response has been less than adequate because the negative publicity continues.

What should BofA do? Grab the issue back from the media – tout the advantages to clients and the general public of the vast array of competitive products that are available – leverage your strengths! A PR or advertising campaign targeted on the advantages of the breadth of offerings would certainly silence some of the internal critics and demonstrate that the firm is on top of the issue. It certainly couldn’t do any harm – I for one am getting tired of seeing these headlines, and I’m not even a client or prospect!

Brokers have always had to fight the battle of being “pressured” into selling in-house products. But trust me, if the broker is successful enough, he or she will be able to resist the pressure and run their business however they want to – BofA is not going to lose a million dollar producer over credit cards – I guarantee it. But they are losing the public opinion fight right now – they should aggressively address the issue now before it gets any worse.

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