Merrill Lynch reviewing ban on commissions-paying retirement accounts

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The head of Bank of America Corp’s Merrill Lynch Wealth Management on Friday said the firm is reconsidering an internal policy from 2017 that banned advisers from opening new retirement accounts that paid them commissions, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Merrill Lynch, along with JPMorgan Chase & Co, moved away from brokerage retirement accounts last year, banning the opening of new ones and moving many clients into advisory accounts, in preparation for the U.S. Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule.

That regulation from former President Barack Obama’s administration, which was intended to curb conflicts of interest for financial advisers, was overturned in March by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Merrill Lynch head Andy Sieg told brokers on a conference call on Friday that the firm had launched a 60-day review of its individual retirement account policies and will consider keeping, relaxing or rolling them back, the source said.

“Now that the regulatory environment has shifted, we’re taking a look at our policies, especially … Individual Retirement Accounts, to ensure we keep our clients’ best interest front and center,” company spokesman Matthew Card said in a statement. “Our core strategy, consistent with our principles, remains unchanged.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a replacement rule in April that would require brokers to act in the best interest of a customer when making investment recommendations for any type of accounts. The SEC is currently collecting public comments on the proposal.

Firms that consider rolling back regulations put in place to comply with the defunct labor department rule must do so with an eye to the new SEC rule, though it is unclear when the SEC will issue a final rule.

(This version of the story corrects Merrill Lynch head’s name to Sieg in fourth paragraph.)

Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Bill Berkrot