BoA Merrill’s Meissner has a huge mountain to climb

David Hellier
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lNVESTMENT bankers rarely have a good word to say about any of their rivals, so it is quite striking when one of their number elicits mainly positive responses. That is quite noticeably true of Christian Meissner, who earlier this year was named as head of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s investment banking operations.

Meissner’s immediate task, however, is a huge one. It was described as tough at the time of his appointment in January, and a few days ago it became potentially harder as Merrill’s star banker in Europe, Andrea Orcel, decided to defect to UBS. Orcel is maybe not the easiest person to work with and his departure might under normal circumstances be seen as easily survivable. But this would be to ignore the talent drain that has been causing concern both internally and with clients, one that has been going on for years and might even have accelerated in the last few months.

When Mark Aedy ran the bank’s European investment operations until 2009, the bank was number one in M&A in EMEA and number two behind JP Morgan in total revenues. Of Aedy’s executive team, the majority have left, with Caroline Silver joining him at investment boutique Moelis along with broker Michael Findlay. Jim O'Neil is at UKFI, while Ricard Gurling also left, leaving a gap in healthcare.

Other relationship bankers such as Matthew Greenburgh, infamous because of the the RBS Amro deal, and Bob Wigley have both long since departed too.

There have been some recent successes too such as becoming number one in syndicated loans in EMEA for the first time in the firm's history.

Meissner himself has done some astute recruiting, bringing in a number of senior investment bankers such as Adrian Mee, head of international M&A and Bob Elfring. But many say the infusion of talent has not yet been sufficient.

There has been an alarming exodus from UK corporate broking, where Merrill currently holds the second largest franchise of FTSE 100 clients. Here the bank has recently lost its co-heads Mark Astaire and Simon Fraser as well as its entrepreneurial oils specialist broker Andrew Osborne.

One of Meissner’s crucial tasks will be to strengthen broking before it loses too many clients. Tullow Oil has gone already and others are threatening to go. He is also determined to change the culture of the bank, more towards teams and co-operation, something that will be easier without Orcel in the ranks.

The highest performing bankers fear newcomers will be promised the plummiest positions in order to get them to sign up, leading to friction for those applying for jobs internally.

Meissner has a mass of goodwill on his side and, having been recently made the interim head of Europe as well as global, he is the man the group is banking on. He needs to act soon and decisively.
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