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Merrill Lynch hires top L.A. wealth management team from Morgan Stanley

Merrill scores a coup over its top rival as competition for wealthy clients heats up

Merrill Lynch said its Los Angeles office hired Bruce C. Munster and nine members of his wealth management group from Morgan Stanley, a sign of increasingly fierce competition for wealthy clients in Southern California.

Munster will join Merrill's Private Banking and Investment Group, bringing along a Century City group that managed more than $1.2 billion in client assets and produced about $5.8 million in revenue last year.

Munster said he switched, in part, because Merrill is owned by Bank of America Corp., which bought the brokerage during the financial crisis of 2008.

“Bank of America can be a party to any sized deal — whether a client needs corporate finance, investment banking or [mergers-and-acquisitions] counsel,” Munster said.

Christine Jockle, a Morgan Stanley spokeswoman, confirmed Munster is no longer with the company and declined further comment.

The latest move is part of the ongoing tug-of-war among major banks for top-producing wealth managers, who typically bring their rich clients with them.

The clients usually fall into two groups: the merely affluent, those with $250,000 to $10 million to invest, and those high net worth customers with more than $10 million to invest.

Merrill's L.A. office, which now manages $18 billion in assets, scored a coup in 2012 when it hired Rebecca Rothstein, then one of Morgan's top producers in Los Angeles.

As post-crisis financial reforms and other factors squeezed conventional bank revenue sources, particularly from stock and bond trading, major banks have turned to fee-based businesses such as credit cards and wealth management to make up the difference.

Merrill and Morgan led the global wealth management business last year with nearly $1.1 trillion and $937 billion under management, respectively, according to a survey by the financial publication Barron's.

California had more of the so-called super-rich, 13,455 folks with at least $30 million in assets, than any other state, according to a survey by the research firm Wealth-X and Swiss banking giant UBS.

Los Angeles was home to 5,145 of the super wealthy, up 4% from the previous year, the survey said.

Twitter: @deanstarkman

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