How Bank of America became a pleasant place to work
There was a time, around five years ago, when Bank of America had something of a reputation. According to its internal critics, the US bank was riven with favoritism and politics. That was 2018; in 2023, insiders say BofA is a much happier place.
"It's changed a lot," says one senior insider at BofA's London fixed income trading business, speaking off the record. "It's become a much fairer place." A senior equities trader at the bank echoes this sentiment: "BofA has become a much better place to work - the culture is far nicer now."
The new niceness at BofA is seemingly emanating from the management of the markets business. Jim DeMare, a former mortgage trader at Citi and Bear Stearns, who joined BofA in 2009, has run sales and trading since July 2020. He's reshaping the business in his image. "Jim is a good culture person," says the fixed income trader. "He promotes the best person to do the job, not the person who's part of his inner circle."
In equities, DeMare has favored people like Martina Slowey, a former head of European prime brokerage at UBS and the bank's head of EMEA equities since July 2020. Colleagues credit Slowey with transforming the environment. "BoA is a nice place to work because of Martina," says one, "She's all about culture." Slowey isn't the typical senior banking professional: she grew up in Ireland, where her parents ran a pub, and before she got her first job at Morgan Stanley she worked in leasing and a bar in Covent Garden.
Both Slowey and DeMare were promoted in the era of Tom Montag, the former COO and president of the global markets business who left in August 2021. In October 2021, the New York Times ran an article accusing Montag of creating a culture of cronyism that favored his inner circle. People at BofA say it wasn't Montag himself that was the problem but the members of this inner circle, including the likes of Fab Gallo, who ran equities trading, and Sanaz Zaimi, the former Goldman Sachs who ran the Paris-based business and FICC sales. Gallo left in October 2020; Zaini left in September 2021.
Although DeMare and Slowey date back to the Montag era, insiders say they're a change from the previous management. "DeMare is a very different character," reflects the FICC MD.
Bank of America declined to comment, but under its new management, the markets business is thriving. BofA's fixed income revenues rose 18% in the second quarter, compared to a decline of 30% at Morgan Stanley; equities sales and trading revenues fell 2%, versus to a 10% decline at Citi. BofA is building up its fixed income sales desks as a result of its success.
It's not all good news - there are job cuts too and bonuses were miserable in 2021, but for the most part morale at BofA seems much better than before. The bank was recently named the best in the world for diversity and inclusion and is trying - where possible, to reallocate rather than cut headcount "It's definitely nicer here now," the equities MD reflects.
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