Fusion power

The Gateway talks to Annabel Biddle, head of staffing at Bank of America Merril Lynch, about graduate opportunities

It's hard to get a sense of the scale of the deal. Merrill Lynch was one of the world's largest financial institutions with a presence in over forty countries, $1.6 trillion in client assets and some 16,000 brokers, giving it an unparalleled strength in the underwriting business. It had 60,000 employees. Bank of America offered financial services to over 59 million consumers and small businesses, serving clients in 150 countries. It now employs over 170 thousand people. How do you integrate such a workforce? As head of staffing at Bank of America Merrill Lynch it must have been an exhausting time for Annabel Biddle.

"That's one way of putting it! There were many things to sort out. But it's been an exciting time, the transition has gone well and we now have the ingredients in place to succeed. We are out in the market hiring aggressively."

How did it affect the work environment? Did it feel like you were working at one big company, or two different businesses?

Transitions are always challenging and ours occurred against a backdrop of a global economic crisis. But we've come a long way and feedback from our clients is positive. Pre-Merrill Lynch, Bank of America didn't have the scale to be a strong competitor in Europe. With Merrill Lynch on board, we are a very different organisation.

Which areas are you looking to build?

The purchase of Merrill Lynch presented Bank of America with the opportunity to dramatically expand its wealth management and investment banking capabilities as well as its international reach. It has brought together two very complimentary franchises. Merrill Lynch had what Bank of America needed: a huge brokerage network, a strong wealth management business and a large presence in EMEA markets. We're committing resources to building ourselves out and are doing a significant amount of hiring.

Why is it a good time to join?

The opportunities that Bank of America Merrill Lynch have for candidates differ to those on offer a year ago when we were two separate entities. The acquisition has enhanced and changed the way in which the bank operates and organises the company - particularly in Europe. There are tremendous opportunities for talented people who join our company. The trends in our business are strong, and we really have the chance now to become a leading global corporate and investment bank in the region. What we need are people who want to be a part of that success.

If Merrill Lynch was bought by Bank of America, why do you still hear the name being used? Does Merrill Lynch still exist?

In most countries across Europe we are branded Bank of America Merrill Lynch. We still use the Merrill Lynch brand for our global wealth management business and in certain 'exception' countries, such as South Africa, Russia and Dubai. But we have one recruitment programme, so as a graduate you apply to one company: Bank of America Corporation.

What do you look for in your applicants beyond the obvious qualities: intelligence, enthusiasm etc.?

We hire from across a number of different areas. We don't only look for people with a background in economics or business. In Europe specifically, language skills are an advantage. But it's really about teamwork and having initiative. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to play a role in building a powerful, successful and well-respected global organisation, then you should be talking to Bank of America Merill Lynch.

Do you have any tips for people thinking of applying next year? What are the pitfalls?

Attention to detail is key. It may sound obvious, but put the right company name on the application form! There are some people who cut and paste - don't do that. Use spell-check. And do your research - think about why you want to work for a specific company in a certain line of business. Remember that in your interview you will be asked about points you include in your application. So if, for example, you cite a certain deal that the company you've applied to was involved in, be aware that you may be interviewed by the person who ran that deal.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Definitely the people. In banking the hours are long - and if you don't get on with the person you sit next to that can really affect your job-satisfaction. Also, the opportunities available at Bank of America Merrill Lynch; the goals that we can and will achieve over the next few years, are very exciting. I think you'd be hard pressed to find another bank quite like ours.