Former Merrill DCM head joins Rockefeller

Jon Pratt is hired by US wealth management firm Rockefeller & Co to help boost institutional client relationships and develop new products and strategies.

Jon Pratt, the former head of Asian debt capital markets at Merrill Lynch, has joined Rockefeller & Co as managing director for institutional relationships, according to a press release. Pratt will be based in New York and will be responsible for spearheading the expansion of the wealth management firm's global institutional business by developing new client relationships as well as new products and strategies.

Rockfeller started its life as a family office for the Rockefellers, but has over the years expanded into an independent wealth management and advisory firm with about $25 billion of assets under administration. Historically, it has been focused on high-net-worth individuals, families and institutions with an excess of $50 million to invest in the area surrounding its offices in New York, Washington, Boston and Delaware, but is now starting to service customers on a global basis.

Commenting on the hire, Rockefeller's CEO James McDonald notes that US-based Rockefeller has remained profitable and has continued to grow during the current period of capital market disruption which gives it a "unique opportunity" to expand its global relationships with family offices, foundations and endowments, third-party banks and other financial institutions.

Pratt, who brings with him an extensive network of global institutional contacts as well as experience at the senior-most levels when it comes to marketing products and strategies to a highly sophisticated institutional client base, will be working closely with the management, marketing and new product developing teams to grow this business further, he says.

A US citizen, Pratt has 15 years of investment banking experience with exposure to North America, Europe and Asia, and across the spectrum of debt products, including investment grade, sovereigns, high-yield, private placements, loans, derivatives and commodity-linked products. He was a managing director and head of debt origination for Asia excluding Japan and Australia at Merrill until January this year when he became a victim of the ongoing downsizing efforts at the bank. A string of senior bankers and analysts has been let go from the firm since Merrill agreed to be taken over by Bank of America. The enlarged bank has been removing the overlap created by the merger and adjusting staff levels to the sharp downturn in business activity as a result of the financial crisis.

Pratt joined Merrill in September 2006 after five-and-a-half years with Credit Suisse. At the time of his departure from the Swiss bank he was head of DCM for non-Japan Asia and arguably played a big role in winning mandates and lifting the debt issuance activity at both Credit Suisse and Merrill. Among his achievements, he is likely to be forever remembered for having helped to arrange Vietnam's first international bond in 2005, a deal which took the better part of five years to bring to market.

The number of investment bankers in Asia who are seeking new challenges outside the industry has been gaining pace over the past year as layoffs have moved into the thousands, forcing people to rethink their opportunities. Some bankers have also chosen not to wait to see whether they will be kept on the payroll, but have left as soon as they have found another job.

The chance of getting hired by a hedge fund or private equity firm -- a favoured option during the bull market -- is pretty slim right now as those firms struggle to keep their heads above water. Many former bankers are instead taking on new challenges in the corporate sector or at more traditional investment institutions.

And for those bankers who have been thinking about a career change for some time already, the reduction in bonuses has worked almost as an incentive to take the plunge as the financial risk of doing so is now much lower.

Pratt's move to a wealth management firm is perhaps not as big a transition as becoming CFO at an Asian company -- especially since he will be talking to many of the same investors as he did when helping companies to raise debt -- but the fact that he is leaving investment banking is nevertheless a sign of the times.

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