POSITION: Head of Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
LOCATION: New York
EDUCATION: University of Tennessee
Dan Sontag is a Merrill Lynch man. He started his career at the firm as a broker in 1978; his father became a Merrill broker in 1956; his brother is a regional manager; even his son is a broker at the firm. So there may be no man more committed to successfully integrating the proud and thundering herd of Merrill Lynch, formerly the No. 1 of retail brokerage, into Bank of America, the country's biggest bank. Like any major merger, it is a colossal undertaking. But Sontag will also need to get used to working for the No. 2 in the business, or else lead Merrill back to first place, surpassing Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
So far Merrill advisors are behind him. Sontag, who took over when Bob McCann quit in January, is the first former broker to take the helm in nine years, and to Merrill brokers this means a lot. “He has a very good feel for the stresses and problems FAs encounter on a daily basis,” says one big Merrill broker. But Sontag is also a straight-talker, something brokers can appreciate in this environment. “He's very soothing, very easy going, doesn't rattle easy, doesn't try to dazzle you with a lot of B.S. He's very forthright, honest and sincere — a good leader,” the broker says.
Of course, there is plenty of potential for trouble. Some say cultural conflicts are brewing between Merrill's top private wealth managers and the financial advisors at U.S. Trust — something Sontag claims is way overstated. Others worry BofA will try to push cookie cutter products down Merrill clients' throats, failing to understand the importance of relationships in the wealth management business.
But so far, like Saperstein, Sontag seems to be making quiet and incremental changes, things that advisors can't get too worked up about. He's offering big recruiting bonuses, perhaps to make up for losses in Merrill ranks. And he has helped make BofA commercial loans more readily available to Merrill advisors. But otherwise, says one advisor who has been with Merrill for 35 years, “They pretty much have left us alone. It's business as usual.”