In a surprise move, Banc of America Investment Services (BAIS), Inc., transitioned its registered representatives to Merrill Lynch on October 23, 2009, and then requested that FINRA withdraw BAIS’s broker/dealer registration.

After acquiring Merrill Lynch last year, Bank of America officials indicated in published reports their intentions to join the broker protocol, which allows departing brokers/advisors to leave a firm and not get sued under non-compete or non-solicit agreements, and allows them to take their clients’ basic contact information, and often their clients, with them.

Patrick Burns, with the law offices of Patrick Burns in Beverly Hills, says he’s “somewhat surprised” by BAIS’s “sudden” decision, since BAIS had stated it was going to join the broker protocol. Burns says BAIS likely transitioned its reps to Merrill for branding purposes. “Merrill probably had the stronger brand name,” he says. Now, Burns says we can expect to see a “large number of former BAIS representatives exploring the idea of going independent and doing so with the protections the Protocol for Broker Recruiting affords them.” There are currently about 300 firms on the protocol list. The three most recent that joined are Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; Wells Fargo Advisors (formerly Wachovia Securities); and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network (formerly Wachovia Securities Financial Network).–Melanie Waddell