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Merrill Isn’t Going Away, Says Bank of America

As part of its rebranding effort, Bank of America is readying a Merrill campaign.

Bank of America Corp. is dropping “Merrill Lynch” from its name but the brand is hardly dead.

The bank plans to launch an advertising campaign in April that will focus on the Merrill side of its brand, according to spokesman Jerry Dubrowski. Bank of America announced February 25 that its investing and wealth management offerings will keep Merrill as a sub-brand name. 

“There are a lot of headlines that say that the Merrill name is going away,” Dubrowski said Tuesday in a phone interview. “It’s not going away.”

When Bank of America's chief executive officer, Brian Moynihan, started his tenure in 2010, he began to push the company toward a more streamlined approach to business, according to Dubrowski. “One of the first things he established was a really simple, straightforward business strategy,” he said.

The rebranding began in November when the firm launched its new logo with just the Bank of America name, according to this week's announcement. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the name of its wealth management business, will no longer be used, while the bank's institutional broker-dealer businesses will now be called BofA Securities.

Seth Margolis, senior strategy director at brand consulting firm DeSantis Breindel, says that most financial services firms prefer a “master brand” approach under which all units belonging to a parent company bear its name. 

“There’s been a trend to simplifying branding,” Margolis said. For example, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom rebranded to simply “Skadden” in some of its materials, he said.

Yet the move move to drop “Merrill Lynch” at Bank of America created a stir in financial media. “Mother Merrill is fading away,” the Wall Street Journal reported February 25.

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“The real Merrill Lynch, a company that prided itself on many things – including being in control of its future – largely left the spotlight when it lost control of its future,” a former Merrill Lynch employee said in an email. “But the brand was and remained so powerful that it made sense for Bank of America to continue to leverage it.”  

Bank of America completed its purchase of Merrill Lynch & Co. in January 2009, when Wall Street was seeking to recover from the global financial crisis. In its rebranding announced this week, Bank of America said it will use "Merrill" to describe its investment and wealth management offerings.

The former Merrill Lynch employee said it makes sense to lose “Lynch.” 

“The ‘Lynch’ part was never a big thing, at least in modern memory – nor were Pierce, Fenner, and Smith,” he said, referring to Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, now a broker-dealer unit at Bank of America. “It was always ‘Merrill,’ and Charlie Merrill was the visionary and marketing genius who continued to be revered and remembered.”

Meanwhile, Bank of America has started hanging signs with its new logo and is distributing new business cards to its employees, according to Dubrowski. The process may take a while to complete. It took three years for the bank's signs to change following the acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2009, a person familiar with the matter said.

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