A pair of seasoned advisers to the banking and insurance industries have joined

Merrill Lynch


, as CEO John Thain continues to bring in select veteran talent despite an official firmwide hiring freeze.

Richard Barrett, a longtime adviser to the banking industry and a former head of investment banking at Salomon Brothers, and Mark Ellman, a longtime colleague of Barrett and a well-established adviser to the insurance industry, have joined the firm, according to an internal email read to


. The Web site reported last month that the

executives were in talks

with the brokerage giant.

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The pair's current role is being described internally as that of high level advisers who will focus chiefly on drumming up client business. They will report directly to Merrill's global investment banking head, Andrea Orcel, "working closely" with William Egan, who oversees Merrill's work with U.S. financial institutions, according to the internal email from Orcel. A call to Orcel was not immediately returned.

A Merrill source acknowledges the firm had "lost a step," in its coverage of U.S. financial institutions. Financial institutions are always an important source of investment banking revenue, and, as

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has lately proved,

there is lots of money to be made advising them

in their current state of distress.

One banker says Barrett had a strong relationship with credit card company

Capital One

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, though during his long career Barrett has worked with numerous large-cap financial institutions.

Ellman briefly took over leadership of the entire financial institutions advisory business at

Credit Suisse

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after Barrett left that firm in 2004 to have a go at raising a private equity fund. Ellman later joined him, but they shuttered the proposed fund this year after failing to meet their fundraising target.

Barrett, who told


last month that it was "highly improbable" he would join Merrill, declined to comment when reached on his mobile phone. Ellman did not return calls to his mobile phone or his office at Merrill, where both he and Barrett reportedly showed up for work Wednesday, sources say.

Merrill shares were down 3.3% to $25.24 in recent trading, after Goldman put the firm's stock on its "Conviction Sell" list with a $22 six-month price target. Goldman analysts see additional writedowns at Merrill, due to troubled assets such as collateralized debt obligations, mortgages and leveraged loans.