What’s in a name? Ask Bank of America

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A lot of bother over BofA.

We’ve written before about how Bank of America had a stab at erasing some of the Merrill Lynch brand after buying it by removing the Merrill ‘principles’ from the wall of its London headquarters.

But that looks pretty slick compared to the way in which the bank has recently rebranded itself – something that has now taken more than 12 months and feels even longer than that.

The latest D-Day for what must surely be the least exciting ‘brand positioning’ in corporate history came on Monday when it was the research team’s turn to be completely transformed.

In case clients were unaware of the urgent development, the top of research reports screamed that ‘EFFECTIVE DECEMBER 9’ BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research was now known as BofA Global Research.

Be still, our beating hearts.

At least the rebranding boffins managed to get around to the research group before 2019 ended. Astoundingly, this all got under way in November 2018, when the bank rolled out a bizarre promotional campaign geared around the tagline ‘What would you like the power to do?’, a phrase that the bank has even registered as a trademark.

The campaign was the first real outlining of the split between Merrill Lynch, which would now be the brand for the investing and wealth businesses, and Bank of America, which would be everything else.

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This was followed up in February with – wait for it… – a new, but not really new, logo.

The lines of the bank’s flag icon had their size changed a bit, but most importantly the name of the bank now appeared in capital letters, “to better emphasize our name and reinforce our stature as the premier global financial services provider working to fulfil our clients’ holistic financial needs”.

That seems a lot to ask of a font.

Alongside the radically changed logo came more clarification of the name. The investment banking and markets businesses that used to be called Bank of America Merrill Lynch would now be called BofA Securities. Not quite a one-company approach, then, more like a three-company one.

Exactly when this was going to happen was less clear. It still hadn’t been implemented by the time of Euromoney’s Awards for Excellence in July. It finally went live in October – for everything except research.

No wonder the bank’s own folks sometimes seem a bit unsure of themselves.

Analyst Andy Stimpson was attending the Deutsche Bank investor day in Frankfurt on Tuesday – day two of the Brave New World. He very carefully introduced himself as being from “BofA Securities” at the start of the private banking division question-and-answer session.

He looked relieved as he did so. “I’m very glad I got the name of my firm right,” he added.

Deutsche’s finest looked bemused: if only that was their biggest problem.

But frankly, they’re not the only ones to be baffled.