Updated from Thursday, Oct. 1
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (
) -- As
Bank of America
CEO Ken Lewis prepares to step away from the plate, everyone is wondering, who's up to bat?
There's a long list of candidates, including some
on Aug. 3.
seems to be the leading internal candidate, according to most armchair speculators, since he has experience in key banking divisions, has worked closely with regulators and was once BofA's top lawyer.
Moynihan, currently the head of BofA's consumer banking division, is also Lewis' right-hand man -- a designation that might help put him in the CEO role, but could also hurt him once he's there.
Lewis has deflected the suggestion that investigations into the
deal are the main driver of his departure. The 62-year-old North Carolinian banker, who has spent 40 years at BofA and its predecessors, insisted that he plans to leave because his work "is largely finished." But it's undeniable that Lewis is leaving the bank because of Merrill, and the work he set out to accomplish is far from over.
There are several ongoing investigations into the deal, with board members being
, and requests from
that the bank waive its attorney-client privilege rights to allow former general counsel Timothy Mayopoulos to testify. No charges have yet been filed, but it's clear that while Lewis was the key decision-maker, he didn't act alone.
His right-hand man -- who also happens to have succeeded Mayopoulos as BofA's top lawyer last December -- is certainly not free of the Merrill stigma.
"Moynihan was a key player in getting the Merrill Lynch deal done," says Michael Garland, a representative from the activist pension-fund investor group Change to Win. "In early April we had a meeting with the board. Moynihan was there, making a case for why Merrill was a good deal. ... Of all the internal candidates, he's the one most closely associated with the Merrill deal. He basically did the Merrill deal."
Besides his involvement with the Merrill deal, others in the banking world criticize Moynihan as a lawyer with little "real life" experience in bank branches or on Wall Street. Sources who have met Moynihan describe him as affable, yet able to take charge of a meeting and "get things done." Yet his one-time underlings in the investment banking division mock his lack of knowledge about fixed-income trading, while some traditional bankers say his not-quite two-month stint as head of consumer banking is inadequate.
"People are saying he is not seasoned enough to take over," says Peter Cohan, head of a management consulting firm, "but I think Moynihan's involvement in the Merrill deal would be the real reason for him not to get the job."
Other key advisers aren't necessarily off the hook, either. Those include Thomas Montag, one of the few Merrill bigwigs who stuck around to run global markets at BofA-Merrill, as well as Greg Curl, whose reputation as BofA's chief dealmaker precedes his title of chief risk officer. Rochdale Securities analyst Richard Bove told clients to consider Curl "the likely winner," because of Moynihan's lack of experience. Bove himself prefers Barbara Desoer, who runs the mortgage and insurance divisions -- calling her a "personal favorite" -- but says she lacks the global presence to take on the role.
There are also a couple of hybrid insider-outsider candidates cited as star hitters for the CEO slot: Former
CFO Sallie Krawcheck, who was recently named head of global wealth and investment management, and former CFO Alvaro DeMolina, who recently led
GMAC Financial Services
Collins Stewart analyst Todd Hagerman says DeMolina is "well suited" to replace Lewis, given his resume but that "chances are low" that BofA's board -- with its reputation for clubbiness -- will look completely outside the company for a successor by year-end. However, nine of those board members have departed, and six new ones have been infused, as part of a management shuffle required by regulators. Walter Massey, who took over the role of chairman from Lewis in April, also seems likely to leave as his mandatory retirement age fast approaches.
Oppenheimer analyst Chris Kotowski notes that the candidates named by Lewis in August will not "be given time to have a major impact on the businesses that they run," making it to his mind "likely" that an external candidate will be named.
CEO Robert Steel is high on the list of quality candidates from outside BofA. Steel ran the troubled bank for just a few months before taking a position at
, its acquirer. He also has intimate knowledge of the global markets, having spent many years in
U.S. and European locations, and serving on the board of
for a short time. Steel is not a stranger to the corridors of Washington either, having served as an undersecretary in the Treasury Department, focused on
Fox-Pitt analyst Andrew Marquardt also cites Bill Winters, who was recently ejected from his role as co-head of
investment banking unit. Charles Scharf, who now runs that competitor's retail operations could also be a contender, as could David Moffett, who had been a top executive at
for many years. He took charge of Freddie after the mortgage-finance giant went into conservatorship, but left in March after clashing with regulators, saying he'd like to return to the private sector.
Bank of America's board plans to meet Friday by phone to speed up finding Lewis' successor. Some directors are considering bringing in a CEO who would keep the job only for about two years, the
Wall Street Journal
reports, citing people familiar with the situation.
But it's worth noting that the role of Bank of America CEO is not necessarily one that top bankers are vying for. BofA is one of the most heavily scrutinized companies in America. It owes the government at least $45 billion, and is grappling with a massive amount of bad loans in a struggling economy. BofA is also operating under a regulatory sanction called a memorandum of understanding, which essentially means that whoever is in charge has to make sure all major decisions are cleared with preferred shareholders in Washington.
Choosing an outsider carries its own risks as well, since internal candidates who were brushed over may cause additional turmoil by leaving, and an interloper may face difficulty taking charge of the biggest bank in the country with no direct experience or comrades at the helm.
"There are a small number of industry executives with the ability and desire to become CEO ...
and few external candidates would have the broad experience necessary to 'hit the ground running,'" Wells Fargo analyst Matthew Burnell said in a report on Thursday.
Until a person with the distance from Merrill Lynch, as well as the experience, reputation and desire to lead Bank of America is named, uncertainty stands to weigh on its shares. Though the Charlotte, N.C., banking behemoth has regained tremendous value since plumbing the depths of the market last spring - hitting $3 on March 6 - it is still far off its 52-week peak of $38.50.
BofA shares closed Thursday down 71 cents, or 4.2%, to $16.21.
-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York