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The Culture Clash Cost Merrill Its Brokerage Chief

Bank of America
Oliver Quillia for cnbc.com
Bank of America

The infighting at Bank of America over picking a new head for its U.S. wealth management division was set off by the unexpected resignation of Lyle LaMothe.

LaMothe, who had been at Merrill Lynch for more than 20 years, said in a memo sent out in March that he and his wife want to focus their energy on "personal interests." He is scheduled to step down on May 1.

Sallie Krawcheck, the head of Global Wealth & Investment Management who was LaMothe’s boss, said all the usual gracious things about the man. The bank’s flacks spun it as a “retirement.”

The real story, however, is that LaMothe—who is only 49 years old—did not just “Retire.” He left after clashing with Bank of America’s management over efforts to get Merrill brokers to sell more banking products to their clients, people familiar with the matter say. Many brokers feel that these efforts sometimes conflict with their ability to pick the best financial strategies and products for their clients.

One person familiar with the matter said that the LaMothe retirement was a sign that Bank of America still has a long way to go before it can call the merger with Merrill a success. In fact, some at the bank say clashes between brokers and bankers are getting worse.

“In terms of the culture clash, this is where the rubber meets the road,” a senior executive at the Bank said.

LaMothe could not be reached for comment.

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