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Wealth management: Same faces, new shop window

Morgan Stanley is seeking out the niche in the wealth management business that used to belong to Merrill Lynch.

Morgan Stanley’s global wealth management business is starting to look rather familiar. In February, Morgan Stanley hired one-time COO of Merrill Lynch’s global wealth management Colbert Narcisse to be COO of its investment strategy and products in the Smith Barney business.

Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, James Gorman, himself the former president of Merrill Lynch’s global wealth management business in 2005, has made no bones about declaring the push that the firm is making in its wealth management business, which combines the former Smith Barney brokerage with its private clients business, and asset management. In January this year, he promoted Greg Fleming, a former Merrill Lynch president, to oversee Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in addition to his current role as head of asset management.

So can the former Merrill Lynchers give the Bank of America-rebranded thundering herd and private clients’ business a run for its money? It certainly appears that Morgan Stanley now epitomizes Merrill Lynch in its original form. With Smith Barney, Morgan Stanley now has its own thundering herd, an asset management business, and the investment banking and global markets business – much like Merrill Lynch before the addition of Bank of America’s retail bank and commercial bank.

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