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No front-runner for next Bank of America CEO

With Bank of America Corp. CEO Ken Lewis retiring in less than seven weeks, analysts don't see any candidate emerging as a front-runner for his successor.
Bank of America CEO
Bank of America Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ken Lewis, left, testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in February. Until an announcement is made, there will be plenty of speculation about who's on the short list of candidates to replace Lewis, who plans to retire at the end of the year. Lawrence Jackson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

With Bank of America Corp. CEO Ken Lewis retiring in less than seven weeks, analysts don't see any candidate emerging as a front-runner for his successor.

The bank said this week that Lewis' replacement could be announced by late November. The board is considering a handful of insiders including Chief Risk Officer Gregory Curl and Brian Moynihan, the head of consumer banking. Other heads of Bank of America's major business units are also being considered, the bank has said.

The company has not identified any external candidates, but media reports have said Bank of New York Mellon Corp. CEO Bob Kelly remains a possible candidate although he has repeatedly expressed his lack of interest.

The search has turned into a difficult task, said Bart Narter, a senior vice president at consulting firm Celent.

"This is one of the most complex companies out there," Narter said. "You need to find someone who knows how to run an investment bank, a retail bank, and a mortgage bank, and a credit card business. That's tough."

Chances of inside candidates
Curl, 60, has been with the bank since 1996 and became chief risk officer in June. If chosen, it's possible his term could be for a transitional period of one to three years.

Curl was a key player in negotiating the bank's acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co. in January, which could potentially hurt his chances of getting the job, some analysts say. Bank of America's new CEO will need to restore the company's relationship with federal regulators and improve its standing with members of Congress who have sharply criticized Lewis and the bank for much of the 11 months since the Merrill Lynch deal closed.

Lewis is believed to have decided to leave the bank because of the strife that has surrounded Bank of America over the Merrill Lynch acquisition. And the company has become more conciliatory toward regulators since Lewis' planned departure was announced Sept. 30.

Moynihan, 50, joined the bank in its 2004 FleetBoston Financial Corp. purchase. Over the past year he has served in several roles, including general counsel, head of global wealth management and consumer bank chief.

Although he has broad experience, Moynihan might be looked at as having been too close to Lewis.

"Investors are going to want someone with experience, but an outside voice," said Tony Plath, a finance professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Other inside candidates include Tom Montag, 52, who runs the bank's global markets unit and took over the global corporate and investment banking unit in August during a management shake-up; and Barbara Desoer, 57, who has led the bank's mortgage unit since the July 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp.

Challenge of hiring an outsider
Because of the many problems the company has had over the past year, especially since its acquisition of Merrill Lynch, some analysts believe Bank of America should seriously consider an outsider.

Senior research analyst Jason O'Donnell of Boenning & Scattergood said outside candidates would include executives with vast experience running large, multifaceted financial institutions.

Besides Kelly, outside candidates mentioned in media reports as contenders are Bob Diamond, president of British bank Barclays Plc, and Larry Fink, CEO of asset manager BlackRock Inc.

The challenge of hiring an outsider, "will be to convince a candidate with that background to assume the helm given the bank's problems," O'Donnell said.

Moreover, for an outsider, "it's going to take a long time to get up to speed with a company of that size," said Alois Pirker, wealth management research director with Aite Group.

Top executives leave after bailout, limits on pay
Bank of America has seen many key executives leave over the past year as the government, having given the company $45 billion in bailout money, has tightened its control over the bank, including limiting executives' pay.

The bank still faces regulatory investigations into the Merrill Lynch acquisition, including federal and state demands for information about the billions of dollars in bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees just before the deal was sealed.

Until an announcement is made, there will be plenty of speculation about who's on the short list of candidates and who might be a surprise pick. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO, became the subject of rumors after he lost his bid for re-election Nov. 3.

During a public appearance Thursday, Corzine said he has not talked with Bank of America about succeeding Lewis. Asked if he'd consider the job, he responded:

"I've been reading books — I've never thought about it."