Merrill Brand Takes a Hit with New BofA Credit Cards
(Updates to note change will not affect existing Merrill Lynch+ card holders.)
In the latest symbol of Bank of America’s influence over its broker-dealer subsidiary, Merrill Lynch’s almost 15,000 brokers this week began selling a Bank of America-branded credit card in place of the firm’s in-house offer.
The Merrill Lynch+ Visa Signature Card, which had been available since 2001 and prominently featured the Merrill Lynch name and the iconic bull, has been discontinued as the firm’s 15,000 brokers gear up to push the new Bank of America Premium Rewards card, several sources at the firm said. The change will not affect existing Merrill Lynch+ card holders who will still be able to renew their Merrill+ cards upon expiration of their current cards.
The new card, which was made available this week, will be co-branded for wealth management clients and features the Bank of America logo in the top right and an equally-sized Merrill Lynch logo in the bottom. The background is a Bank of America flag instead of the bull.
“[T]he BofA stuff is more noticeable because of its placement on the front of the card,” said one Merrill broker who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This card replaces the ML Merrill+ card which only had ‘Merrill’ on it, but the bull was prominent in the background taking up about two-thirds of the card.”
Another broker in New York said that the change, which will not affect the credit Merrill brokers receive for offering the cards, was “not an awfully big deal,” but appeared to be another sign of the broker-dealer’s status at the parent company.
“From what I heard GWIM fought to have the bull put on the cards ordered for our brokerage clients and had a second request to make the logo bigger than what BofA wanted to,” the broker said.
To be sure, however, the brokers noted that the bank’s influence is nothing new for the sales force, which has been pushing Bank of America banking and lending products since the 2009 merger.
In addition, the new card appears to offer more rewards than the Merrill+ predecessor and is more competitive with the Chase Sapphire or American Express cards, the brokers said.
A spokeswoman for the firm said that the co-branded cards, which have a $95 annual fee, have “greater points-earning potential” than earlier cards and also have enhanced rewards for Merrill clients.
Merrill brokers are also not alone in having to sell clients on a new card this year. Other big bank and brokerage firms have been pushing credit cards as part of an overall drive to boost banking and lending revenue and to deepen ties to their wealthy clients.
Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, for example, offers client associates $50 for every credit card account they help their brokers open. UBS Financial Services in May launched a new luxury credit card through Visa that it’s head of private wealth, John Mathews, touted in a as a way for its brokers to “have a more meaningful impact on our clients’ everyday lives and experiences by serving more than their traditional wealth management needs.”