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Morgan Stanley’s Gorman must beware culture clash with E*Trade

The big acquisition makes strategic sense as a bet on convergence between high net-worth financial advisory and self-directed trading, but M&A deals can founder on culture.


After announcing the $13 billion agreed acquisition of E*Trade, Morgan Stanley looks even more like a large wealth management firm with an investment bank attached.

This is the direction in which chairman and chief executive James Gorman has been purposefully leading the storied firm since before taking the top job. 

As head of asset and wealth management, he was a key driver of the staggered acquisition of Smith Barney from Citi, announced in 2009, that has since transformed the company. 

In 2010, with Gorman now running the whole firm, Morgan Stanley still drew 74% of its profit from institutional securities, which comprises M&A advisory, equity and debt capital markets, equities and fixed income sales and trading. 

By 2019, the investment bank contributed just 49% of profits, while wealth and investment management had grown to 51%.

Assuming E*Trade shareholders approve an offer that brings them a big premium – albeit one paid in Morgan Stanley stock and not cash – wealth and asset management will make up 57% of pro-forma profits, pushing institutional securities down to 43%. 

“I’ve been around these [wealth management] businesses for 30 years and feel passionate about them,” Gorman reminded analysts.

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