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Monday, January 30, 2006

Merrill Picks New Brand For Funds

by: Armie Margaret Lee

Merrill Lynch's search for a new brand for its mutual funds ended close to home. The brokerage giant has picked its hometown of Princeton, New Jersey as the basis for its new brand that will be sold through third parties.

In lieu of the Merrill brand, the funds will be sold under the the name Princeton Portfolio Research & Management, in a move the firm hopes will boost anemic sales. The name switch will kick off in May, to be supported by new marketing materials and an ad campaign.

"This new brand is the linchpin of our efforts to make our industry-leading products and services available to an even broader range of advisors and investors," said Robert Doll, president and chief investment officer of Merrill Lynch Investment Management, in a statement.

The Merrill name has cramped the growth of the funds because many third-party financial advisors see Merrill as a competitor, he said.

The new brand, which won over dozens of other options, resonates well with employees, executives told The Wall Street Journal. Merrill’s fund group, Merrill Lynch Investment Management is based out of Princeton.

Still, for close watchers of the firm, the new name should not come as a surprise. Last year, Merrill's retirement services division adopted the Princeton Group as the name for a new unit created through the purchase of Amvescap's U.S. defined contribution business. The firm has been using that name with large plan sponsors in which it is bidding for recordkeeping and administrative mandates.

As for the company’s retail fund clients, the Princeton name carries with it "positive connotations given the prestige of the university," making it a logical choice, Doll told the paper.

The rechristening does not cover investment products marketed to U.S. institutional clients and customers outside the U.S.

Since 1998, Merrill’s stock and bond funds have bled $34 billion in assets, according to figures from the Financial Research Corp. Fund assets currently stand at $61 billion. 

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