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Merrill Wealth rehires Chhabra as chief investment officer

By Jed Horowitz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Merrill Lynch Wealth Management on Monday said it has hired Ashvin Chhabra as chief investment officer and head of investment management, overseeing about 150 strategists who design portfolios for wealthy clients.

Chhabra, 51, replaces Lisa Shalett, who in early February left the world's second biggest brokerage firm, as measured by its 14,500 financial advisers.

For the past six years, Chhabra has managed the endowment funds at the Institute for Advanced Study as chief investment officer of the Princeton, New Jersey-based think tank.

The hire is a homecoming for Chhabra, who ran wealth strategies and analytics from 2001 through early 2007 at Merrill Lynch before it was absorbed by Bank of America . In 2006, he published an article titled "Beyond Markowitz" positing that even affluent investors were badly diversified because of failure to incorporate personal risk parameters and "aspirational goals" when building investment portfolios.

The concepts are being widely adopted throughout the wealth management industry as firms compel brokers to build wide-reaching financial plans for clients rather than simply hawk stocks, bonds and other products.

Chhabra, who has a Ph.D. in applied physics from Yale University, will report to Andy Sieg, head of global wealth and retirement solutions at Merrill. About 500 financial advisers at an investment training program in Phoenix on Monday broke into "spontaneous applause" when it was announced that Chhabra was returning, according to Sieg.

"They feel like an old friend is back," Sieg told Reuters.

In addition to his CIO role, Chhabra is also running Merrill's Ultra High Net Worth investment office, the company said.

With Chhabra's appointment, Merrill Lynch has filled all the vacant positions that opened at the top of its investment management group since Shalett's departure, Sieg said. In late March, it named Bank of America technical strategist Mary Ann Bartels to replace Rick Galiardo as CIO of portfolio strategies.

Galiardo is expected to take a senior post at Sanford C. Bernstein. Shalett has not yet decided on a new position, according to a person familiar with her search.

(Reporting By Jed Horowitz; editing by Andrew Hay)

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