Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith turns 100 today. At least, she would have been, if she was a standalone entity, and not a government rescued TBTF entity, forced into a shot-gun wedding with Bank of America.
I have a warm place in my heart for the firm once referred to as Mother Merrill. As a young trader, I interviewed for an entry-level position. Right there on the main trading floor, a cavernous affair the size of several football fields in the downtown office. It was unlike any place I had ever been in before. I had plenty of friends who worked on desks there, and eventually came to know many folks in their research department. There was at one time a sense of camaraderie at Merrill, a real feeling that everyone was rowing in unison. In my experience, it was a unique place, with a sense of passion and purpose. And even though I never worked there, I was mentored by a number of traders who did. It was that sort of place.
The idea of democratizing finance for the middle class was novel. So too was the Cash Management Account (CMA), allowing brokerage customers to combine money market, check-writing and credit card all in one account. Win Smith, son of founding partner (yes, that “Smith”) details this history in Catching Lightning in a Bottle: How Merrill Lynch Revolutionized the Financial World.