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By Hugh Son
NEW YORK - Bank of America Corp. salespeople assigned to the world’s biggest stock portfolio managers were given new orders by their boss in September: attend at least 30 meetings a month with clients, or else.
That works out to 1.5 gatherings each business day, which riled the staff and spurred some to exaggerate their meeting logs to avoid missing goals ahead of bonus season, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter. They asked for anonymity because the new policy isn’t public.
The mandate from Soofian Zuberi, the Merrill Lynch veteran promoted to head of global equities distribution in May, shows the pressure Wall Street firms are under to take a bigger slice from the world’s shrinking pie of trading fees. Some workers regard Zuberi’s targets as unreasonably high, the people said.
“What he’s doing is pointing out that personal relationships bring in revenue,” said Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. “He’s set a bar that is probably a little too high; this is saying you’re having client lunches five days a week and dinner about three days a week. Still, that has value, it forces sales guys to get out there.”
CEO Brian T. Moynihan, 53, has called Bank of America’s trading units critical to reviving profit at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender. The firm had $3.7 billion in equities trading revenue last year -- about 4 percent of total net revenue.
According to the people, Zuberi told his sales team of more than 500 workers in a memo that they need to see clients in person more often, rather than relying on e-mail and telephones. Bank of America could improve its market share by gaining a deeper understanding of client needs, the people said.
The 30-meeting quota is for equities sales staff members, including those who handle specialty lines such as derivatives and prime-brokerage. Their job is to pitch investment ideas and deliver research to analysts and managers at institutions including BlackRock Inc. and SAC Capital Management LLC.
Zuberi also told workers assigned to traders at hedge funds and mutual funds to tally 20 meetings each month, the people said. That’s onerous to some employees because they don’t often leave their desks during trading hours, said one of the people.
The statistics will be internally listed so equities employees can see where they stand, Zuberi told them in his August e-mail, the people said. Those who fail to make the quotas can expect managers to address the shortfalls at year-end meetings, the people said. Workers use Bank of America’s customer-tracking system to log meetings, the people said.
The equities sales chief “knows what it takes to get a client, knows how to put your hands around somebody’s throat and ask for the order,” said Bruce Foerster, president of South Beach Capital Markets and former head of the global equities syndicate at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. “I’m a big believer in face-to-face meetings so I can take the measure of somebody that I want as a client.”
Zuberi didn’t respond to voice messages and e-mails seeking comment on his initiative. Kerrie McHugh, a Bank of America spokeswoman, said the company had no comment.
Another change for the equities unit will be a focus on the 75 institutional clients seen as offering the greatest chance for growth in global fees, one of the people said. That list is winnowed from a previous emphasis on more than 200 accounts.