Merrill Lynch & Co. hired banker Matt Whalen as a managing director last week from leading ABS underwriter JPMorgan Securities.

Whalen will head Merrill's home equity underwriting business. Fellow JPMorgan Alumni Paul Park and Alan Chan also jumped to Merrill; these hires are the latest move aimed at spurring the bank's asset-backed underwriting business.

Whalen will report to managing director Theodore Breck, who heads the ABS origination effort at Merrill. Breck reports to head of structured finance Dansby White. Under a recent reorganization, White now reports to Jeff Kronthal - now head of the Global Principal Investment & Secured Finance group.

Park, who will be a director at Merrill, has over 15 years of real estate ABS market experience and will be responsible for structuring and analytics. Chan, hired as an associate at Merrill, joined JPMorgan in 1998 as after graduating from Stanford University.

"This banking team will leverage the Firm's asset finance and whole loan principal activities throughout the Global Principal Investment and Secured Finance Group," said Dansby White in an internal memo. "These hires, as well as the addition of the SURF team in March, further demonstrates the firm's commitment to enhancing our mortgage platform by upgrading our ABS banking team and increasing our secured lending, mortgage trading and principal activities significantly."

Whalen had been at JPMorgan since October of 2000, rising to the level of vice president. Prior to the JPMorgan/Chase merger, Whalen had been on the issuance side of the fence at home equity issuance unit Chase Funding.

Taking over for Whalen at JPMorgan is Christian Schiavone, who ironically has shadowed Whalen's footsteps throughout his career. Schiavone, a vice president at JPMorgan, had also come from the Chase Funding lending unit of Chase Manhattan bank. Prior to joining Chase, Schiavone worked as a director in the residential mortgage group at what was then Fitch IBCA.

Whalen replaces the departed Ken Mulford, who formerly handled real estate-related ABS for Merrill and recently accepted a position as managing director at American Capital Access (see ASR 06/03/02).

The burning question, of course, is how Whalen will perform minus the assistance of the JPMorgan balance sheet. The recent reorganization within Merrill was aimed at leveraging the balance sheet more efficiently, but the key for Whalen is the relationships he has developed with some of the largest issuers in the sector including Countrywide Home Loans Inc. and GMAC-RFC.

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