From a Former Merrill Broker

I'm getting a lot of mail off my cover story on the financial debacle. I thought I'd highlight the more thoughtful ones (and maybe a couple of the stupid ones as well). Here's one from a former Merrill broker:

First and foremost, I never "sold" my clients something that I thought would harm them.  What would be the point?  Take the other side of the transaction for a minute -- if a broker recommends something and it goes sour, he/she has to call each and every client and relay that unpleasant fact to them.  Try doing that all day.  Because, frankly, as a broker, no matter how much you read, study and learn there is NO WAY that 100% of your recommendations will work.  Not possible.  If averaged about 70% to 80% on the right side.  But I had my losers and after one week of calling customers and explaining what went wrong and why I thought we needed to sell the stock I became ill.  I kept going back, however, because until the last five years the business was basically run in an ethical, moral way.  Merrill NEVER told me what to present to a client.  When I retired in 1996, I knew my clients, their families, their pets, their dreams and their aspirations.  I felt I had helped them navigate and understand the financial world and I felt proud of the job I had done.
As a retiree, however,  I am saddened at how Merrill's name is dragged through the mud on a daily basis.  Mr. O"Neal can be held largely responsible for the demise of the firm, though Mr. Thain did not do much to help it either.  It is ironic to me that they both came from the investment side of the business, not the brokerage side of the business.  Previous CEO's had all come up through the brokerage side and understood the importance of client relationships.  Think you you would feel if your career went up in smoke as people attacked on a daily basis the firm you were once proud to work for.  And think how you would feel if the stock you were given turns out to be worthless with no income coming from it to help ease your retirement years.
I sympathize with the broker who did not call you.  After 16 consecutive months of markets blowing up right and left, I can imagine that he/she was shell shocked and also felt betrayed -- believe it or not as betrayed as you felt.  Wall Street is not full of liars and thieves.  There are bad apples in every profession.  But the vast majority of Merrill brokers are caring, hard working and smart.  My heart goes out to them and to you.