Alok Prasad, MA ’94, PhD ’96, Head of Merrill Edge and Managing Director at Bank of America
Investing Made Simple: Management consultant-turned-banking executive champions online brokerage initiative for BofA
Alok Prasad has never enjoyed his career more. He is heading up a financial services program that he helped conceive and launch: Merrill Edge, a Bank of America and Merrill Lynch hybrid that offers clients banking and brokerage services in one, integrated program. “I am energized every day thinking of the opportunities that lie ahead of us and working with a talented team that is passionate about this business,” says Prasad. “It is exciting to be part of a growth business and have access to the breadth of resources that Bank of America and Merrill Lynch offer to win in the marketplace.”
As an integral part of the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, Merrill Edge is able to “tap into the best” of what each has to offer, notes Prasad: a full suite of banking and investment products, high quality research, insights, planning tools, and convenient access. “Our goal is to simplify the investing process by creating one place for our clients to seamlessly accomplish their financial goals — from day-to-day cash management, to saving for retirement, children’s education, buying a home, or simply saving for a rainy day,” he says. “We aspire to offer every single client the simplest way to save, plan and invest for their and their family’s future.”
Prasad is proud of the role he played in getting Merrill Edge off the ground, an effort he says “marked the culmination of two years of hard work on the part of hundreds of team members in bringing an idea to life.” As head, he oversees and manages all facets that contribute to the success of the business, including defining the strategy, managing day-to-day operations, delivering on the P&L targets, driving innovation and new products, and recruiting top talent while actively managing and mitigating risks.
“An important aspect of my responsibility is to drive a ‘one team’ culture across the organization that enables our employees to partner effectively to deliver on behalf of our clients,” adds Prasad. “We work across organizational boundaries to ensure we are bringing the best capabilities together for our clients, whether they are banking products from Bank of America or investment solutions and insights from Merrill Lynch.” Prasad believes that Merrill Edge’s personalized and convenient approach to investing will be the key differentiator versus its competitors.
Prasad, who received both his masters’ and PhD from Johnson, worked as a management consultant for 10 years prior to joining Merrill Lynch in 2004. “I wanted to get closer to the business and get more engaged in the day-to-day operations and implementation of strategy work I was doing,” he says. “Consequently, joining Merrill Lynch was the next logical step for me.”
Starting out as head of strategy for the global investment bank of Merrill Lynch, Prasad later led the marketing and strategic planning functions of the company’s wealth management business. After Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2009, Prasad’s new job was to determine how Merrill’s products and offerings could be best utilized and expanded upon with the vast resources and customer base of the Bank of America. This culminated with the launch of Merrill Edge in 2010.
There’s good reason to be confident about the future of Merrill Edge, as Prasad sees it: “Our greatest challenge is also our largest opportunity,” he says. “In many cases, Bank of America clients have chosen other investment firms for their investing needs. We want to bring them into Merrill Edge to provide them one place to manage their financial life.” Prasad reveals that out of the 50 million Bank of America clients, 10 million are in the target asset holding range of Merrill Edge. He estimates that those 10 million clients hold over $4 trillion in investment assets with other financial firms. However, he believes that his firm’s offerings will win over clients: “We are well-poised to execute on our strategy that will convince these clients that Merrill Edge is the best place for them to manage their investments."
When asked, Prasad named two key personal qualities that he believes have fostered his career success: “First, I would say creativity coupled with a relentless focus on execution details. From my perspective one cannot be a successful leader if one doesn’t strike the right balance between being creative and being focused on the details of execution.
“Next,” he continues, “it’s the ability to partner and influence others. This has proven to be extremely important as I rely heavily on my partners across Bank of America and Merrill Lynch to help me drive the growth of Merrill Edge. If I am not effective in driving those partnerships or in influencing them to deliver on what Merrill Edge needs, I will not be able to take Merrill Edge to its true potential.”
Prasad’s strategy is paying big dividends both for him and for Merrill Edge, as he reveals: “The commitment and support from the senior leadership team at Bank of America has been phenomenal,” he says. “Despite a challenging market environment, they have embraced Merrill Edge as a strategic priority and have continued to actively support and invest in it. Our goal is to be among the top online brokerage firms — and we are well on our way to meet this goal in the next few years.”
Sahil Jain ’14 is an intern in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.