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Banks Up Profit Bets on the Rich

Updated to correct the types of insurance Chartis provides.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- By the end of 2008, Bank of America (BAC) had positioned itself as the bank on every corner for every consumer.

The combined BofA-Merrill Lynch-Countrywide-U.S. Trust franchise seemed to shout: Deposits? Mortgages? Subprime? Near prime? Wealth management? Derivatives? Investment banking? Insurance? Advisory services? We've got it all right here!

But now, like other big U.S. lenders hit by financial reform, Bank of America is nudging small-fry customers out of its network and aggressively targeting affluent, wealthy and super-rich Americans from whom it can get more bang for the buck.

On one end, it's been quietly closing branches, prodding customers to use online banking tools and ATMs instead of phone or face-to-face service and tacking fees onto accounts with low balances. On the other, it's been offering a spread of products and services to customers who have money to manage, assets to insure and estates to plan.

At a conference a year ago, CEO Brian Moynihan outlined this new strategy. He pointed out that Merrill Lynch clients have hundreds of billions of dollars parked elsewhere that could be at work within Bank of America. He mentioned that "affluent" customers who utilize an array of banking services bring in seven times more risk-adjusted revenue, on average, than "mass market" customers who have less income and fewer banking needs.

"For the financial advisor in Merrill Lynch wealth management, the opportunity is to get them more clients than anyone else in the business can," said Moynihan, "and to ... get more from the current clients based on the capabilities we have."

Since then, BofA's Global Wealth and Investment Management segment, headed by Sallie Krawcheck, has been on a mission to hire hundreds advisers and brokers with solid client bases and retain the good ones that exist within the franchise.

In a challenging environment, the segment delivered better results in 2010: Fee income up 7%, assets up 7% and deposits up 5%. And while GWIM was less profitable due to investments in headcount and infrastructure, the division earned money while home loans, card services and deposits were in the red.

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