UPDATE 1-Merrill's Krawcheck says there is no broker exodus

Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:32pm IST

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* Broker attrition in 4th qtr was at a "record low"

* Merrill saw slower attrition among the top producers

* Merrill brokers' initial worries about BofA have eased

By Joseph Giannone and Joe Rauch

NEW YORK, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Sallie Krawcheck says reports of the great broker exodus have been greatly exaggerated.

Indeed, the president of Bank of America's global wealth and investment management division on Thursday told reporters that departures among top-producing financial advisers sank to a "record low" during the fourth quarter.

Krawcheck, who last year took over as head of the mighty Merrill Lynch brokerage business, said there was some attrition earlier in 2009 but the pace of departures dropped through the second half.

"Quite frankly, we haven't seen as much as we would have expected," she said on a conference call to discuss a quarterly survey on retirement planning.

Krawcheck said attrition among the top 40 percent of brokers, ranked by profits, was half the rate of the best previous year ever.

Overall, the bank's adviser attrition rate fell to a record low in the fourth quarter, she said. Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results next Wednesday.

Krawcheck's comments contrast with reports of a flood of financial advisers leaving major "wirehouse" brokerages like Merrill to join smaller firms or independent adviser businesses.

"Despite what I read about these big attrition rates, it's not happening," Krawcheck said. "They're not going to the RIAs (registered investment advisers) in droves."

Breakaway brokers and recruiters contend there is widespread dissatisfaction with the big brokerages, and that the independence movement will continue this year. The financial crisis, which brought Merrill Lynch to its knees and prompted its sale to Bank of America, eroded confidence in the staying power of the big banks.

Krawcheck said widespread fears among Merrill brokers of how business would change under the Bank of America flag have faded. As a result, she said, broker departures slowed.

"There are no quotas and there are no plans to sell X,Y or Z product," said Krawcheck.

Instead, she said brokers have found clients are asking for a broad array of products and services beyond investments, a trend that favors diversified companies like Bank of America.

"I'm not Pollyanna. I worry about lots of things that keep me up at night," Krawcheck said. "But the business is better off than it seems to be." (Reporting by Joe Rauch in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Joseph A. Giannone in New York; editing by John Wallace)

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