Bank of America's Next CEO

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) will need a new CEO soon, if the market’s reaction to the current plans of chief executive Brian Moynihan remains poor. Moynihan has said he will cut 30,000 jobs and drop expenses by $5 billion a year by 2013. He has also fired two of the bank’s most senior executives and created the positions of co-chief operating officers. Moynihan agreed to take a $5 billion investment from Warren Buffett on unfavorable terms and sold half of its stake in China Construction Bank for $8.3 billion.

The largest bank in the U.S., for now, is one of 17 financial firms being sued by the the Federal Housing Finance Agency for failing to disclose risks of mortgage-backed securities sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It appeared Moynihan had settled one of Bank of America’s most other critical challenges. The bank reached an agreement with large mortgage investors, which included Pimco and Blackrock (NYSE: BLK), over mortgage values. The cost of the settlement was to be $8.5 billion. The agreement was effectively blocked in federal court by a number of homeowners. There is a likelihood that more suits about Bank of America’s mortgage practices will be filed between now and year end.

No matter what Moynihan does, the market remains skeptical, which is why the bank’s board is increasingly likely to replace him. Even after Buffett’s investment and the China Bank of Construction sale, Bank of America’s shares are barely above $7. It traded for over $19 a year ago last April.

The number of people qualified to run a huge international bank is relatively small. The number that Wall St. would approve of is much smaller. Based on skills and recent accomplishments, these are the six people most likely to be approached for the job.

Heidi Miller was one of Jamie Diamond’s long-time senior operating executives. Miller has been named American Banker’s most powerful female bank executive. Miller has also been on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women list . More important than the praise are her success at JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM) and her availability. Miller “retired” recently as the head of JPMorgan International. She ran the bank’s Treasury and Security Services, and sat on the bank’s 15-person operating committee.

Susan Wagner is the Vice Chairman of Blackrock, arguably the best-run publicly traded financial company in the U.S. Wagner is also a member of the corporate Risk Committee at Blackrock. Blackrock is the world’s largest money manager and oversees $3.6 trillion. Her mentor has been Wall St. legend Laurence Fink. Wagner may be able to rely on her relationships with several powerful members of the Blackrock board, which includes the head of Barclays and former CEO of Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America bought during the credit crisis. Her risk management background is critical.

Michael L. Corbat is CEO of Citi Holdings, which is the “bad bank” created in 2009 to wall off some of Citigroup’s (NYSE: C) less desirable assets. Corbat’s management experience is as broad as anyone’s in the bank business. He was an investment banker for most of his career. He then ran the huge Global Wealth Management division at Citigroup. And he took on Citi’s weakest portfolio companies — the CitiFinancial and CitiMortgage finance operations, Primerica insurance unit, and, in addition, $300 billion of distressed assets.

Richard K. Davis is the CEO U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB), which is the sixth largest bank in the U.S. U.S. Bancorp has been considered one of the best run American banks for years. It did not get into many of the risky businesses that its larger peers did, and its stock was not nearly as badly hurt as those of other large banks during the credit crisis. Research firm Morningstar recently wrote, “U.S. Bancorp is in a league of its own. Its large fee-based businesses, conservative underwriting, and management’s ability to recognize opportunity during crisis set the company apart from its peers.”

Frank P. Bramble, Sr., is the former vice chairman of MBNA, and is a current Bank of America board member. He held the vice chairman’s job when Bank of America bought the company in 2005 for $35 billion. When the federal government orchestrated a restructuring of the Bank of America board, which included the addition of four new members, Bramble was well-regarded enough to be retained. Bramble has been head of the U.S. operations of Allied Irish Bank Group and chairman of Allfirst Financial. Perhaps the thing that recommends him the most to be head of Bank of America is his experience as a long-time board member.

John Mack is the best candidate to run Bank of America and the least likely to take the job. He is the chairman of Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) and was its CEO during the credit crisis. He is widely credited with actions that kept the investment firm independent when bank stocks collapsed. Mack has been co-CEO of Credit Suisse Group (NYSE: CS) and chief executive of Credit Suisse First Boston. Mack is the current dean of Wall St. leadership. If he were to take the CEO job at Bank of America, it would be viewed even more positively than Warren Buffett’s investment.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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