Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) is one of the most popular stocks in the financial sector among both bulls and bears. However, one thing is certain -- many people are strongly opinionated on the bank, and our analysts are no exception.
We asked two of our analysts -- one bull and one bear -- to give their take on Bank of America. Here's what they had to say.
Patrick Morris: It may come as a surprise to some, but if I had to pick where to put Bank of America, I would undoubtedly select the Nice List.
Although it isn't entirely out of the woods yet, 2014 has been a year when Bank of America has continued to put its legacy issues behind it.
That process included the historic $17 billion settlement with the Justice Department in August, but the bank has also watched its cost to service the mortgages that gave it so much trouble fall from $7.6 billion through the first nine months of 2011 to $4.3 billion through the first nine months of this year.
But it isn't just the financial side of things, either. It watched its Net Promoter Score -- which gauges customer sentiment -- leap ahead of Wells Fargo after years of falling behind. In addition, the bank noted earlier this year that its internal customer satisfaction measures have skyrocketed, and a J.D. Power Survey indicates the same as well.
In other words, it's continuing to ensure that it's doing right by both its customers and its investors.
Bank of America would've made the Naughty List far too often over the past few years, but 2014 brings it back to the Nice List.
Jordan Wathen: I'll put Bank of America on the Naughty List. Though much has improved, recent news coming out of its highly valuable Merrill Lynch division leaves a lot to be desired. Culture cracks are emerging, and quickly.
In his book Young Money, Kevin Roose described the somewhat complicated combination of cultures at BoA and Merrill Lynch when the two firms merged during the financial crisis:
Bank of America, the country's largest commercial bank, employed more than two hundred thousand people, and had retail branches and ATMs spread out across the country. Merrill Lynch, on the other hand, was a white-shoe firm with a proud history of elitism. In fact, many at Merrill Lynch considered commercial banking -- the business of taking deposits, issuing mortgages, and giving loans to regular people -- a lower form of commerce.
Culture issues have since trickled down from the investment banking ranks all the way to Merrill's army of financial advisors. Story after story explains the reality that many of its best advisors with the most assets under management are leaving for better opportunities. Meanwhile, Merrill is dramatically changing compensation structures, trying to tempt its advisors to stay on board, and, in many cases, to direct business to Bank of America's traditional banking units.
Bank of America has treated its most profitable unit, Merrill Lynch, as an endless well that it can tap for much-needed profitability. But the pendulum between happy employees and profits may have swung too far. This is no small issue; when its advisors leave, assets under management leave with them. And there are ample opportunities for its best producers to take on roles at other firms or, with the spread of new advisory models, start their own businesses.
This is a problem Bank of America will have to fix in 2015 if it hopes to retain the talent that makes Merrill Lynch No. 1 in productivity, profitability, and return on equity in its peer group. It appears now that this short-term quest for profitability is coming at substantial cost of lost profits when Merrill Lynch's best employees decide that they've had enough and move on to greener pastures.
Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. Patrick Morris owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Bank of America. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.