Bloomberg News

Bank of America Aims to Save $5 Billion With Project New BAC

September 12, 2011

Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Bank of America Corp., the biggest U.S. lender by assets, expects to cut about $5 billion in costs annually by 2013 under Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan’s plan to bolster profit and the company’s stock.

Implementing he first phase of the overhaul starts next month, with evaluation of commercial and investment banking scheduled for completion in April, Moynihan said today during an investor conference in New York. Moynihan’s plan, dubbed Project New BAC, included a management shakeup last week that elevated Thomas K. Montag and David Darnell to co-chief operating officers and left Sallie Krawcheck and Joe Price without jobs.

“We don’t have to be the biggest company out there, we have to be the best,” said Moynihan, 51. “We can get out of things we don’t need to do, make the company leaner, more straightforward, more driven.” He didn’t specify how many jobs would be affected.

Bank of America advanced 12 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $7.10 at 9:58 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, the best showing in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company already ceded the title of largest home lender to Wells Fargo & Co., and slipped to No. 2 in deposits at midyear behind New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.

As of June 30, Bank of America still ranked as the largest employer among U.S. lenders with about 288,000 people. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which has the largest branch network, and New York-based Citigroup Inc. are next largest, with more than 260,000 employees. JPMorgan, the most profitable U.S. bank, had about 250,000 workers.

Pressure on Moynihan

The first phase of Project New BAC focuses on consumer banking, credit cards, home loans and technology, Moynihan said. The effort will shave about 18 percent from the company’s $27 billion in consumer-related expenses, he said.

“When you take Phase 1, and combine with Phase 2, we feel comfortable we’ll get back to the 55 percent efficiency ratio we talked about in March,” Moynihan said.

Moynihan has sought to bolster capital at the bank and confidence among investors after a 54 percent slide in the stock since he became CEO in January 2010. His tenure includes posting a record $8.8 billion quarterly loss, committing $30 billion to clean up faulty mortgages and selling at least $40 billion of assets and preferred shares.

Profit is under pressure mainly because of losses, legal costs and writedowns tied to the 2008 takeover of subprime lender Countrywide Financial Corp. At the same time, revenue is shrinking as the U.S. economy slows. Moynihan has said that because the bank is one of the biggest consumer lenders, its fortunes are closely tied to home prices and the jobless rate.

Project Planning

About four dozen of the bank’s top executives met last week to review Project New BAC, named after the company’s stock ticker symbol, with the earliest cuts likely to target consumer banking and support staff such as human resources, a person familiar with the plan had said. Moynihan told investors on Aug. 10 that money saved from the initiative “will be both material and substantial,” which the bank needs as the economy slows and new federal regulations cut revenue.

The multi-month effort behind Project New BAC is a way of “reengineering your processes, particularly appropriate for a company that’s a product of mergers and integrations,” according to Alastair Borthwick, co-head of global capital markets and a participant in the planning.

Too Much Information

For example, the managers found that the company’s internal financial reporting has “a high degree of frequency, a high degree of completeness, and a high degree of detail,” Borthwick said in an Aug. 31 interview. “What we’re asking is, can we live with fewer, smaller, less-detailed reports across the entire firm?”

Borthwick realized in his own European equity business that he was getting daily reports describing what had happened that day. They were so “extremely well-written” and “incredibly precise” that he figured someone was spending an hour or more a day on them. From his desk at One Bryant Park in New York one July day, he hit reply-all after getting his daily report and requested that the notes stop or say simply that nothing material had happened, or be written periodically only if there were important news.

If “I and my colleagues can live with 20 percent less reports, and the 20 percent less time spent on those activities, then it allows your finance teams to get after higher-value- added activities.”

Stock Slide

Bank of America fell 48 percent this year through last week, the worst performance in the Dow average and 24-company KBW Bank Index, as investors focused on costs tied to the Countrywide takeover and speculated the firm may issue new shares to boost capital. Last month, American International Group Inc. added to the woes, suing to recoup at least $10 billion in losses on mortgage bonds. Bank of America said AIG was to blame and that the New York-based insurer was an “informed, seasoned investor.”

Such disputes “will take a lot longer -- and it’s in our best interest to have it take longer,” Moynihan, who has a law degree and served a stint as general counsel, said in a Sept. 6 interview. “You have to chop away at them, as the legal teams will do. It’s going to stay with us for a long time because it’s not in our best interest to do something there until we chop the cases down and get people to be more realistic.”

Job Cuts

In an Aug. 18 memo, Moynihan disclosed 3,500 job cuts that will affect operations across the firm and include as much as 5 percent of the investment-banking unit, or about 600 people, two people with knowledge of the plans said last month.

“This obviously is a challenging time for our company in the markets, and for our shareholders,” Moynihan said in the memo. “I know it is tough to have to manage through reductions, but we owe it to our customers and our shareholders to remain competitive, efficient and manage our expenses carefully.”

Bank of America leaders had been “fighting a different battle” before, and that was to gain scale, Moynihan said in the interview. His predecessor, Kenneth D. Lewis, spent more than $130 billion assembling a company with leading positions in deposits, credit cards, mortgages, investment and corporate banking and wealth management. The firm had $2.26 trillion in assets as of June 30.

One of Moynihan’s decisions -- to get out of managing private-equity investments gained in the 2009 acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co. -- has saved millions of dollars a year, he said. Moynihan said he was following a blueprint for asset sales he gave to directors in 2009, as Bank of America directors were interviewing candidates to succeed Lewis, who resigned at the end of that year.

--With assistance from Paul M. Barrett in New York. Editors: Rick Green, Peter Eichenbaum, Dan Reichl

To contact the reporters on this story: Hugh Son in New York at hson1@bloomberg.net; Dawn Kopecki in New York at dkopecki@bloomberg.net; Max Abelson in New York at mabelson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Scheer at dscheer@bloomberg.net


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