Merrill Lynch Turns 100 - 5 Core Principles That Led It This Far

On January 6 Merrill Lynch will celebrate its 100 year anniversary. Former Chairman of Merrill Lynch International and son of one of ML's founders, Winthrop H. Smith Jr. reflects on its colorful history.
January 02, 2014

Client Comes First

Prior to the 1970's, there were standards were preventing clients from receiving what they wanted, if they had a savings account and the government regulated it below inflation they couldn't aggregate accounts or access brokerage accounts easily. "You had to request a check and couldn't use a credit card," Smith explains. "The innovation Merrill Lynch came up with was a cash management account that brought together securities, credit card and checking accounts and gave ease of access to the client." That move helped to launch the private wealth side of the firm in 1970s-1980s.

Also back in 1970's there were fixed commissions on Wall Street, with no competition on price. "Don Regan was chairman of time. He argued for a negotiated rate which is not at all popular with peers on Wall Street," Win recalls, "In his view a company had to be competitive and those that did well would survive and those that didn't would go out of business, and that's what happened."

The first history of Merrill Lynch, Catching Lightning in a Bottle: How Merrill Lynch Revolutionized the Financial World, by Win Smith can be purchased here.

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