Bank of America Corp.'s chief risk officer unexpectedly stepped down Thursday as part of the company's effort to re-engineer its credit culture.
Separately, lawmakers have formally requested B of A CEO Ken Lewis to testify before a House panel next week as part of an ongoing investigation into the bank's acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co.
The company's risk chief, Amy Brinkley, agreed to retire June 30 after Lewis determined that it needed a different approach to underwriting, said company spokesman Robert Stickler. Neither the board nor regulators were said to be involved in the move, though chairman Walter Massey was aware the change was being made. "This was a management decision made by management," Stickler said.
Succeeding Brinkley, 53, will be Gregory Curl, 60, B of A's global corporate strategic development and planning executive. His charge from Lewis: to change B of A's credit underwriting to reflect what a likely permanent shift toward lower pricing. Curl was already a member of the Charlotte company's management committee.
Sticker said Lewis, Brinkley and Curl weren't available for comment. "We understand that sources of income are going to be restricted and loss rates need to be lower," Stickler said. "We're already seeing that in the credit card space."
Though Bank of America returned to profitability in the first quarter after an abysmal end to 2008, loan losses ballooned, particularly in residential lending, credit cards and small-business lending. The company's first-quarter loan-loss provision spiked 85% from the fourth quarter; nonperforming assets rose 41%.
The bank, which raised its risk profile by acquiring Countrywide Financial Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., accepted $45 billion from the Treasury Department and is nearing $33.9 billion more in capital to satisfy requirements after government stress tests.
Gary Townsend, the CEO of Hill-Townsend Capital LLC, said it would be wrong to blame Brinkley for those developments. "I'm not sure a risk manager can reasonably plan for an environment that is four or five standard deviations from the mean," he said. "But you have to imagine that her job has been quite harrowing, particularly in the last month with all the pressure from regulators and shareholders."
"Chief risk officer is a hot seat going into any recession, no matter who you are," said Anthony Polini, a Raymond James & Associates analyst. "This is one of those moves where you don't necessarily point fingers but you think a change is needed."
Brinkley joined Bank of America in 1978 and became chief risk officer in 2001. She is seen remaining on the bank's charitable board.
Curl joined Bank of America predecessor NationsBank Corp. in its 1997 purchase of Boatmen's Bancshares in St. Louis, where he had been a vice chairman and the chief operating officer and had experience with credit oversight. Stickler said Curl is expected to keep other posts related to Bank of America, including serving on boards at China Construction Bank and Mexico's Grupo Financiero Santander Serfin. (B of A owns minority stakes in both.)
The $2.3 trillion-asset company has made changes since shareholders stripped Lewis of his chairman's title in April. Massey, a retired college president, became chairman, and lead director O. Temple Sloan departed. B of A is also looking to add directors more familiar with financial services firms.
Also Thursday, B of A said Robert L. Tillman, 65, had resigned from the board May 29. A former top official at Lowe's Cos. Inc., Tillman joined the board in 2005. He received re-election support from 75% of the votes cast in April, surpassing Sloan's 62.6% backing but far less than the 92.7% Massey received. Stickler said he was not aware of any other major management changes in the works.
Meanwhile, company officials will have to prepare for Lewis' scheduled appearance on Capitol Hill next week.
He has been asked by Reps. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, to appear next Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Towns, who chairs the panel, and Kucinich, who chairs a key subcommittee, have been investigating the circumstances behind the government's decision to give Bank of America billions in government aid, and its acquisition of Merrill Lynch.
A June 3 letter signed by Towns and Kucinich said Lewis should be prepared to address when Bank of America became aware of the deteriorating conditions at Merrill Lynch, as well as the role the federal government played in the decision to complete the deal. Lawmakers also want to know "what has Bank of America done with its federal financial assistance," according to a copy of the letter obtained by Dow Jones Newswires and reported Thursday.
Congressional investigators have spent recent weeks examining Federal Reserve papers, handwritten notes and other documents as part of the investigation. People familiar with the probe have said investigators are focusing on possible discrepancies between Lewis' public statements, his testimony to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and what he told Bank of America's board of directors.
The probe was sparked in part by claims made by Lewis in February testimony to Cuomo that he was pressured by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to complete the deal with Merrill Lynch even once he learned of ballooning losses at the investment bank. Lewis also suggested he was urged by officials not to publicly disclose any issues with Merrill Lynch's finances.