Why Merrill Lynch bankers are leaving

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Another day, another spate of departures from Merrill Lynch. This time they're in Asia, but they could just as easily have been in Europe or the US. According to the Financial Times, Merrill has now lost 10 senior bankers in Europe, and headhunters say more departures are on the cards.

'Everyone is trying to get out of Merrill," says the European head of financial services at one international search firm. "They have three issues: compensation, culture and commitment."

According to the headhunter, the situation at ML now is comparable to the situation at Morgan Stanley in 2005, when senior bankers like Joe Perella and Terry Meguid quit in quick succession.

"It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," he says. "The more senior people leave, the more that those staying behind get unsettled. There's real uncertainty over how people will be paid, there's a big culture shock, and there's a question over Bank of America's commitment to the European business as a result of the money it's received from the US government."

He adds: "They have also got some very good people and everyone is climbing all over them."

Last month, Brian Moynihan the BofA banker who replaced Thain as head of ML, reportedly came to London to stabilize the situation and discourage further departures.

Today, the Wall Street Journal says Moynihan may be in line to replace Ken Lewis as head of the entire BofA/ML operation.

It seems unlikely that this will stop ML bankers rushing for the exits: Moynihan is not a Wall Street banker, but heralds from FleetBoston Financial Corp. He is also a lawyer by training. And as Chuck Prince demonstrated, lawyers and investment banks do not always mix.

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