It's Out With the Old and In With the New for Morgan Stanley

Goodbye, Smith Barney.

John Grgurich
John Grgurich
Sep 26, 2012 at 12:00AM

Attention Democrats: As of yesterday, you no longer have Smith Barney to kick around anymore. Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) has officially changed the name of its wealth management business from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney to Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

The reference to the Democratic Party comes from the 2008 presidential convention, when a blue-collar worker from Fairmont, Indiana named Barney Smith delivered what had to be the best line from any political speech that year: "We need a president who cares more about Barney Smith than Smith Barney."

The name change comes less than two weeks after Morgan Stanley announced it had reached an agreement with Citigroup (NYSE: C) to buy out the remainder of MSSB, their joint brokerage venture. Talk about a hot potato.

Blah, blah, blah... wait, what did you say?
"The Smith Barney name stood for investment excellence for three-quarters of a century," Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said in the statement announcing the move. "And Morgan Stanley Wealth Management will provide the first-class service that has distinguished Morgan Stanley as a firm for more than 75 years. Going forward, we remain focused on being the world's premier wealth-management group."

For the all the meaningless niceties in those few sentences, in the end, Gorman actually got at something worth noting: Being the world's premier wealth management group is of utmost importance to Morgan Stanley because, like most of Wall Street, it's still scrambling to find its footing four years after the financial crash, and it has to do something to start making serious money again.

It's not you; it's me
Brother-in-arms Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) is making the most of its commercial-banking status (acquired in the dog days of the crash, like Morgan Stanley's) by opening a private bank-within-a-bank to serve its wealthy clients. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) just announced 16,000 further layoffs in an effort to get more from less, focus on core competencies, and regain its competitiveness.

Morgan Stanley sees a large part future in wealth management, and its a fair strategy, hence its aggressive move to reacquire MSSB all for its own. But poor Smith Barney. No one likes being dumped. So let's just hope that Morgan Stanley makes the most of Smith Barney's demise by remaining focused on being the world's premier wealth management group, and eventually turns around its ailing fortunes... lest it too goes the way of Smith Barney.

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