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BofA rebrands Merrill: What’s staying, and what’s not

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Is Merrill Lynch going the way of Smith Barney?

Not quite. Bank of America, which bought the wirehouse during the financial crisis, is rebranding its wealth management operations and dropping the Lynch part of the name in some cases, according to the company.

“Merrill” will serve as the name for the company’s wealth management offerings, encompassing its self-directed offering (Merrill Edge), robo advisor (Merrill Guided Investing), its wirehouse channel (Merrill Lynch Wealth Management) and its elite unit serving the ultrawealthy (now renamed Merrill Private Wealth Management, formerly Merrill Lynch Private Banking & Investment Group).

The bank also rechristened its U.S. Trust business to Bank of America Private Bank.

The changes were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

But while some things have changed, others have not. Financial advisors can still say they work at Merrill Lynch. The firm’s iconic bull logo also remains.

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Still, the rebranding may rub some advisors the wrong way. A recently retired Merrill Lynch advisor who asked not to be named lamented its diminution. “Old names fade away.”

Steve Dudash, a former Merrill Lynch advisor who now runs an independent practice, says it's the continuation of Bank of America's takeover of Merrill Lynch.

"Maybe at one point of time Merrill was thought of as a separate entity, but as time goes on they want it to be one big happy family. If I was still a Merrill Lynch advisor, it’s just another sign of where the company is going," the Chicago-based advisor says.

Dudash, noting the disappearance of U.S. Trust, asks "How long before the Merrill part is gone?"

Of course, many banks have altered or abolished names following acquisitions. Iconic brands that ended up in the dustbin of history include Smith Barney, A.G. Edwards and PaineWebber.

Alex. Brown is the rare brand that was resurrected. Deutsche Bank bought the investment and wealth management company in 1999. It later sold the private client group to Raymond James which revived the original name two years ago as part of an effort to retain the unit’s financial advisors.

But whether advisors make career changes based on rebranding and market efforts is debatable. There have been much more substantive changes at Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit, from compensation plan tweaks, cross-selling initiatives, renewed emphasis on goals-based planning, and technology updates.

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