Merrill names new IB head for Asia-Pacific

Jim Forbes, who is currently with Merrill in New York, will take up his new position once the merger with Bank of America is completed.
Jim Forbes will become the new head of investment banking for the Asia-Pacific region at Merrill Lynch after its pending integration into Bank of America, effectively succeeding Damian Chunilal who left the US firm last week. The appointment, which will come into effect on the day BoAÆs acquisition of Merrill is legally completed (expected to be early January at the latest), was confirmed by Merrill Lynch spokesman Rob Stewart.

Forbes has been with Merrill for close to 14 years and is currently head of global healthcare investment banking, based in New York. Healthcare is one of MerrillÆs biggest revenue earners with regard to investment banking and the firm ranks number one globally in terms of deal activity within this sector, meaning the division it is often seen as a stepping stone towards bigger roles within the investment bank. Sources describe Forbes as a ôdealmakerö, which suggests that BoA intends to continue to develop the Merrill investment banking franchise in Asia, but perhaps put more focus on the traditional investment banking model where business is won on the back of relationships as opposed to through aggressive lending of the bankÆs own balance sheet.

Internally, Merrill employees in the region are bound to be pleased that BoA has chosen a successor from within Merrill as opposed to a banker from its own ranks with less investment banking experience. However, one source says Forbes is expected to have a reporting line back to New York rather than to Jason Brand, who is currently president of region, which suggests that BoAÆs US-based leadership intends to be closely involved with the investment banking business that it is about to take over. There was no confirmation yesterday of who exactly Forbes will report to, but his promotion was communicated internally by Gregory Fleming, MerrillÆs president and COO, making it likely that this is also who he will answer to. According to US media quoting an internal Merrill memo, Fleming will become head of global corporate, commercial and investment banking at the merged entity.

ForbesÆs official title will be head of corporate and investment banking for Asia-Pacific. This is different from ChunilalÆs former title as COO and head of origination (effectively head of investment banking) for Pacific Rim, although the difference appears to be a difference in wording to fit in with the BoA pecking order rather than an actual difference in responsibilities. Sources say other Merrill titles in the region are likely to be adjusted accordingly once the takeover has been formalised.

The fact that Forbes is being described as a dealmaker indicates that he will have a different approach to the job than Chunilal who was viewed primarily as an administrative man, the person who made strategic decisions about who to hire, how to build the firm and what investments to make û not a relationship man who could be counted on to bring in new business.

Forbes has worked on a number of billion-dollar deals while at Merrill, including the high-profile $33 billion buyout of HCA in 2005 in which Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity was the lead equity sponsor. One source notes that he both looks and sounds the part of a client-focused and deal-generating banker, although he isnÆt believed to have any direct experience of working in Asia. Before he joined Merrill in 1995 he was with Credit Suisse First Boston.

Last week, sources told FinanceAsia that Chunilal, a 19-year Merrill veteran who reported to Brand, had left the firm after failing to make the shortlist to become the new head of the IB division in Asia.

Shareholders at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America will vote on the proposed takeover on December 5.
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