Dead Duck?

National Discount Brokers' mascot, a boisterous mallard, may be headed for the chopping block now that its parent company, Deutsche Bank, has announced plans to sell the online discount brokerage unit to Ameritrade Holding Corp.

In a daffy marketing scheme that came out toward the end of last year, National Discount Brokers offered people calling its toll-free customer service number an option to hear a recording of the duck itself. "For trading, press 1, for a new account kit, press 2 … if you would like to hear a duck quack, press 7," the automated voice on the line still says.

It's a lame duck now. An Ameritrade spokesman said the company plans to fully incorporate NDB into its own brand.

Casually Speaking

Financial services execs have taken to the concept of casual dress, but will they give it up?

A survey by the New York recruiting and human resources advisory firm KPA Group found that nearly two-thirds of financial institutions in the New York region allow business casual attire five days a week, 52 weeks a year. About 90% of the 100 institutions questioned were foreign, with operations in New York.

Another 18% of the respondents said they let employees dress casually on Fridays year round, 12% said they allow it all week during the summer only, and 5% said the policy was in effect on Fridays only in summer.

The survey respondents said they will not go back to their old officewear policies unless Wall Street does. Of course, big investment banks were among the first financial institutions to shift to casual dress in the late 1990s as a way to keep employees from jumping to then-popular dot-com companies and as a way to put dot-com clients at ease.

Casual dress has had some casualties. The Custom Shop, whose colorful, made-to-measure monogrammed shirts became a staple of many a Wall Streeter's wardrobe in the 1980s and early 1990s, has gone belly-up. Preppy haven Brooks Brothers is looking decidedly more like Banana Republic.

But with mass layoffs on Wall Street this year, there has been talk that a little more formality might be a good thing. KPA Group is advising caution. A wholesale shift back to the old days may be a morale breaker, says Len Adams, director of KPA Group. "People have gotten comfortable with it," he said. "It may not be such a good idea to change that."

Alas, the tide may already be turning. Attending a recent meeting with 30 or so "outplaced" executives from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Mr. Adams stood out. "Everyone except for me had a suit and tie on," the headhunter said. "I was very self-conscious."

Silence in Charlotte

Given all the attention First Union Corp. has attracted this summer in trying to pull off a merger with Wachovia Corp., its annual meeting Tuesday in Charlotte seemed anti-climactic.

There were plenty of empty seats in the Adams Mark hotel ballroom as Ken Thompson called to order his first annual meeting as chairman and chief executive. Wachovia chief Bud Baker was there to observe the proceedings, sitting quietly in the front row. Most of First Union's directors were there, too, including Erskine Bowles, an investment banker and former White House chief of staff under President Clinton.

When Mr. Thompson opened the floor for discussion of the merger proposal, the room fell so quiet that about the only sound was a reporter tapping away on his Blackberry two-way pager. The resolution passed easily.

Mr. Thompson and his Wachovia counterpart, Mr. Baker, can only hope things go so smoothly at today's Wachovia annual meeting in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The only real tension in the meeting came when Patricia Broderick, a First Union shareholder, read a statement in support of her resolution calling on the bank to halt political contributions.

After about five minutes decrying the evils of corporate campaign donations, Ms. Broderick began blasting First Union's board for cutting dividends even though it granted a lavish retirement package last year to former chairman Edward E. Crutchfield. "That's stockholders' money, and our dividend was cut in half," she said, drawing an outburst of applause from some of the shareholders present.

Last August, the board approved a retirement package for Mr. Crutchfield that included payments of $1.8 million a year for life on top of his regular pension, use of a corporate jet, and other perks.

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