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Wealth Unit Grows, But BofA Profits Fall 43% on $4B Litigation Expenses

Wealth management revenues are on the rise at Bank of America, which still saw profits dive 43% at the end of the second quarter on mortgage-related litigation expenses.

The company's Global Investment and Wealth Management division, which includes U.S. Trust and Merrill Lynch, reported revenues of $4.58 billion, up from $4.49 billion for the year-ago period. 

Profits however slid about 5%, dropping to $724 million from $759 million, while expenses rose to $3.4 billion from $3.2 billion. Executives said the rise in costs was partly due to recent technology upgrades.

"We had the roll out of Merrill One and there's been additional money spent related to retirement programs and systems," CEO Brian Moynihan told investors during a conference call. "You have to make sure you're making the right investments."

Merrill One, a three-year project that has cost more than $100 million, is a major platform upgrade, replacing five existing systems, the oldest of which dates back to 1989. Merrill is currently training advisors on how to use the platform, which has been rolled out to 9 of the firm's 11 markets.

"What firms like Merrill can do… is to take a second look at how they do business and see where they can make upgrades. And that can be costly," says Alois Pirker, analyst with Aite Group.

Pirker says that such upgrades, including Merrill Clear, an app for helping baby boomer clients identify their goals, helps the firm move to a more fee-based, comprehensive wealth management business model.

U.S. Trust posted post-merger record revenues of $784 million, up from $740 million for the year-ago period. Merrill Lynch's revenue climbed to $3.79 billion from $3.74 billion.

Overall, the wealth unit's return on average allocated capital fell to 24% from 30%.

Assets under management rose to $878 billion from $743 billion, while total brokerage assets increased to $1.09 trillion from $992 billion.

Advisor headcount grew to 16,722 from 16,481 for the previous quarter.

Advisor productivity continued rising, climbing to $1.06 million per advisor from $1.01 million for the same period a year earlier.

Overall, Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America reported companywide profits of $2 billion, down from $4 billion. Second quarter profits were up compared to the previous quarter when the bank reported a net loss of $272 million due to $8 billion expenses in litigation.

Revenue slipped to $21.74 billion for the quarter, down from $22.72 billion for the year-ago period. Diluted earnings-per-share fell to $0.19 per share from $0.33 per share.

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