NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The bottom line for Bank of America(BAC) - Get Report investors is that last night's management shakeup means buying (or keeping) the stock is now mostly a bet on Brian Moynihan.
The departure of CFO Bruce Thompson and 35-year veteran David Darnell, a vice chairman, concentrates even more power in the hands of Moynihan, who took on the added role of chairman last year even though shareholders had split them up five years earlier. Analysts disagree about whether the changes will prove beneficial for shareholders.
Moynihan took over in 2010 and has led the bank's subsequent effort to recover from missteps during the financial crisis, generating a 31% gain in its stock price in the past five years. That's not as good as it looks, though: The KBW bank index has risen 66% in the same time, more than twice as much. The gap reflects ongoing stumbles in regulatory reform, corporate governance, and the integration of Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch -- two costly financial crisis acquisitions that forced Bank of America to take a $45 billion government bailout.
The management shakeup "looks like a consolidation of power by the CEO," Mike Mayo, a banking analyst and long time critic of Bank of America, said in a report on Thursday. "Many management changes show lack of stability at the top, and some of these changes also seem to result in overlapping responsibilities, which can reduce accountability rather than enhance it."
Mayo's assessment of the move as a power grab is backed up the decision to enhance the roles of Terry Laughlin and Anne Finucane, who previously worked at Fleet Boston, where Moynihan built his career before Bank of America purchased the firm in 2004. Mayo, who maintains a sell rating on the bank and a 12-month price target of $16 a share, has often called Fleet's alumni the "Boston power elite."
Finucane, who leads marketing, and Laughlin, who will head wealth management, were both named vice chairmen.
"The changes also increase Brian Moynihan's position at the top of the company," said Rafferty Capital analyst Dick Bove. "He had already made the first step in doing this by taking the two leadership roles in the organization for himself."
Unlike Mayo, though, Bove says that's "not altogether a bad development."
Bank of America spokespersons didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
The departure of Moynihan's longest-serving CFO may be the highest profile of the shifts. A regular fixture on the bank's earnings calls, he will be succeeded by Paul Donofrio, a former Navy pilot who has been with the bank since 1999 and recently served as head of global credit and transaction banking.
Coinciding with Thompson's exit, the bank appointed human resources executive Andrea Smith to the newly created role of chief administrative officer, where she will ultimately lead the bank's annual stress test submissions -- a task that was previously performed by the CFO. The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank has encountered problems with the tests in each of the past two years.
"The responsibility of getting the stress test and other government-reporting functions right is that of the CEO and the CFO," Bove said in a report on Thursday. "In this case, the CFO has been picked to go."
While the stress test process is new and byzantine, Bank of America seemed to struggle more than its peers in getting Fed approval. Changing who handles stress test submissions from CFO to CAO raises questions about whether previous problems were the result of a person or a process.
In 2014, Bank of America initially passed the stress test but had to go back and resubmit its plan after the company realized it made a $4 billion capital misstatement on its initial plan.
In March, the bank received conditional approval on its stress test and is working to re-submit its plan to the Fed by September. The effort has been costly -- as much as $100 million -- as outside analysts have stepped in. The process has been overseen so far by Laughlin, who will collaborate with Smith on the resubmission as well as the 2016 submission.
This time the problem wasn't math but instead what the Fed termed as: "weaknesses in certain aspects of Bank of America's loss and revenue modeling practices and in some aspects of... internal controls." In Bove's view, having the CAO handle future stress tests may be so that the bank can better address more qualitative measures.
"The government is looking at more than financials when it demands reports from banks," Bove said. "It is keyed into operational risks also. This new position may have been created to meet this issue."
For instance, in June, The Wall Street Journal cited unidentified people saying the Fed's assessment concluded that Bank of America "merely reacts to problems after they are raised by regulators."
Many shareholders remain dubious about the bank after five years of Moynihan's leadership, and said so pointedly at its annual shareholder meeting in May.
Some referred to the bank's decision last October to appoint Moynihan as chairman, which effectively negated a binding shareholder vote that required that the roles of CEO and chairman be kept separate. Months after the decision and days before the May shareholder meeting, the bank agreed to put the decision to a vote no later than the next shareholder meeting, which will be in 2016.
There was no hint of changes in management during the bank's quarterly earnings call with analysts last week as both Moynihan and Thompson were present as usual. However, given the scope of Thompson's role as CFO and the likely importance of Smith's new role as CAO, it is likely that changes were well under way.
The decision not to announce changes prior to the earnings call -- where analysts would have the opportunity to ask questions -- echoes its behavior when merging the roles of CEO and chairman. When ISS, a proxy advisory service, asked why the bank didn't engage with shareholders beforehand, the bank replied that it wanted to avoid media attention.