Two years after completing its takeover of Merrill Lynch, Bank of America is refining its strategy to get banking products such as debt, liquidity and cash management to the clients of financial advisors.

“We’re at the epicenter of these two companies coming together,” says Laurie Krupa, who was named head of the banking unit of the global wealth and investment management operation late last year.  She reports to Sallie Krawcheck, president of New York-based globwl wealth and investment management, which had $2.238 trillion of total client assets as of Dec. 31.

In her new role, Krupa manages over 800 wealth management banking and credit specialists who partner with the more than 20,000 Merrill Lynch Financial advisors and U.S. Trust private client advisors to bring banking products to their clients.

Krupa said there are a few key aspects of global wealth and investment mangement. First is product management and development, which creates debt, liquidity and cash management products to meet the needs of the client base. Second is the group of specialist bankers that work with financial advisors in Bank of America’s various channels. There is also a group of underwriters that underwrite all the credit is extended by the banking unit.

Krupa became head of GWIM Banking after serving as the head of Wealth Management Banking within the GWIM Banking and Direct Investment division of GWIM. In that role she helped build the team of wealth management bankers that now serve financial advisors through GWIM Banking. She joined Bank of America in 2004 through the acquisition of FleetBoston Financial.

In 2010, more than 281,000 loan and deposit products were sold to customers who had an investment relationship with Merrill Lynch. Krupa says the combination of the advisors at Merrill Lynch and U.S.  
Trust with the banking expertise from Bank of America provides a unique value proposition for clients.

Merrill Lynch advisors generally are not credit specialists, Krupa noted. And part of the reasoning behind GWIM Banking is that they don’t have to be – the advisor can remain the point of contact for all dealings with the client but bring in a specialist if banking services are needed.

“We didn’t want to turn the Merrill advisors into bankers,” she said. Instead, the goal is to give the advisors the ability to provide banking solutions and advice to their client as a way to enhance the relationship.

U.S. Trust’s private client advisors often have a broader credit background than those at Merrill Lynch, but they can still use GWIM’s bankers for help with complex deals, or get banking products for clients through the unit.

Krupa stressed however, that GWIM isn’t operating in what she called “the age of cross-sell.” Instead “it really is about delivering the enterprise.” The advisors are not pushing banking products, she said, but rather responding to client needs.

As an example, she said, a Merrill Lynch advisor could work with a client who was a business owner. The advisor could have taken care of all that client’s personal needs, but now his or her business is looking for a line of credit. “It’s not like they’re looking to cross- sell a line of credit,” she said – the request comes from the client, and then the advisor can help set up that line with the help of a GWIM banker.

The operation was first created in late 2008. Last year the leadership team re-examined “the entire continuum of banking solutions” that were brought together with Merrill Lynch, U.S. Trust and Bank of America to see if new products needed to be developed, she said. In addition, the group looked at the various offerings among the three legacy companies to see if some products were being offered to one set of clients that might be worth offering to another.

For example, she said, “we have some really interesting structured lending capabilities that were historically only offered to the ultra- high-net worth clients,” through U.S. Trust, but as GWIM looked at its total client base they realized they could bring those capabilities to clients at Merrill Lynch as well.

This year, Krupa said,  “is our key year for integration,” and, “continuing to integrate banking into the way our advisors do business every day.”

A vital part of getting these products to clients is training the advisors about what exactly GWIM Banking offers and how they can use it.

Merrill Lynch, for example, “ has a very well defined wealth management process,” Krupa said. “We need to make sure that banking is integrated into that wealth management process, so it’s not thought of as a secondary offering.”

For clients, having banking choices alongside investments makes a lot of sense, she noted, because they tend to think about their wealth in a way that includes all kinds of accounts.

With new technology and an opt-in option to integrate their banking and investment accounts, clients and their advisors can now see everything at once, and make decisions accordingly – what Krupa calls “giving advice on both sides of the balance sheet.”

To make this happen, this year GWIM Banking is incorporating information about the banking products and services into the Practice Management Development training program for new advisors at Merrill, as well as in the informational sessions for top performing advisors.

Advisor engagement and awareness is key, Krupa said. “It’s evolutionary, a lot of repetition and reinforcement.”

“The knowledge base that they are working from … has historically been all investment,” she said, and GWIM needs to make sure the advisors understand what the banking solutions are, and how they can engage with the wealth management bankers to serve clients.

“Ultimately it really comes down to advisor relationship building, really gaining their trust that the people that they would be putting in front of their clients are knowledgeable and can provide advice and guidance,” Krupa said.

However, industry observers were skeptical about whether Bank of America can sell a lot of banking products through its financial advisor channel.

Paul J. Miller, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va. pointed out that other banks have tried this approach before, without much success.

“The cross sale for brokers to sell banking products never really pans out as expected, but makes nice headlines,” Miller said. “Brokers want to keep the relationship exclusive with them, not with the bank.”

“Banks have dreams of all financial advisors cross-selling dozens of banking products and it never comes to fruition,” according to Charles “Chip” Roame, managing principal of Tiburon Strategic Advisors in Tiburon, Ca., often due to resistance from the advisors themselves.

He says that advisors resist selling banking products for several reasons, including concerns that the client will be too tied to the bank if the advisors wants to move to a new firm and worries that they may risk the relationship if the client is turned down for a mortgage.

For these reasons, adoption of banking products can be far less than a bank hoped for, Roame said. However,  “Any bank product sales are a plus, with low distribution costs, so it’s all a matter of perspective.”

Burton Greenwald , a consultant with B.J. Greenwald & Associates in Philadelphia said that for Bank of America to make headway selling banking products through the advisor channels GWIM Banking is going to need to overcome the cultural differences between banking and investments, with brokers tending to be more entrepreneurial and banks more bureaucratic.

In addition, he said, many clients may not be interested in getting all financial services products from their advisor. “The supermarket concept of financial services is still yet to be proven. When it comes to people’s money they like to go to specialized sources of expertise.”

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