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Banks are having a tough time finding private banking specialists in South Florida these days, and major players are actively raiding competitors for seasoned employees. Now, Bank of America is taking steps to make it harder for its high net worth bankers to walk out the door. The North Carolina-based banking giant has asked its private bankers to sign noncompete agreements, according to Private Asset Management, an industry newsletter based in New York. In a recent letter sent to its private bank relationship managers, Bank of America included a noncompete clause in which private bankers will be precluded from contacting current clients for an entire year after they leave the bank, according to Private Asset Management. That’s no big deal, a Bank of America spokesman says. “We feel it’s a fairly standard industry practice,” Sean McMahill, the bank spokesman, said in an interview last week. Indeed, it is standard practice in the brokerage industry, but not as common in private banking. McMahill denied rumors that the noncompete agreement has been met with staff resistance. However, according to Private Asset Management, some Bank of America insiders question the legality and the timing of the letter — with some private banking employees reportedly feeling pressured to sign or risk their annual bonuses. McMahill says the bank has already taken a similar approach with its “premier bankers,” who provide wealth management services for professionals not yet wealthy enough to meet Bank of America’s $1 million minimum in investible assets for private banking accounts. Relationship managers in the so-called premier banking service have been asked to sign noncompete agreements and to agree to train for a Series 6 license, a professional investment designation that allows the professional to sell variable annuities and other insurance products. A similar package is being dangled before private bankers, McMahill said. The same letter outlining the noncompete agreement also asks private bankers to train for a Series 7 certification, which will enable the bankers to become registered securities brokers. To earn a Series 7 certification, an individual must pass a six-hour exam developed by the New York Stock Exchange and given by the National Association of Securities Dealers. Because Bank of America is footing the bill for that training, the bank had considered asking newly trained bankers who leave within a 12-month period of training to reimburse the $2,000 for the training program, according to Pat Campbell, spokeswoman for the bank. “But [Bank of America] pulled away from that,” she added. Bank of America’s push to get its private bankers certified to sell variable annuities, stocks and bonds is part of an industry trend. Registration for financial service industry licensing exams climbed 33 percent in the first 10 months of last year, according to Securities Training Corp., a New York-based firm that develops training material. “Despite the softening of the markets in the second half of the year, the licensing trend continues to accelerate,” according to a statement from Paul Weisman, president of Securities Training Corp. The growth is coming from banks, insurance companies, certified public accountants and support staff at traditional and online brokerage firms.

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