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Merrill May Lift Commission Ban for Retirement Accounts

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Merrill Lynch, which had banned commissions on retirement accounts before the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule took partial effect in April 2017, is now considering reversing that move.

The fiduciary rule is essentially dead following a U.S. appeals court ruling in March, which the Labor Department decided this week not to appeal.

“Now that the regulatory environment has shifted … we’re taking at look at our policies, especially as they might affect policies and procedures for individual retirement accounts, to ensure we keep our clients’ best interest front and center,” the company said in a statement. It expects to complete its review of the commission ban in about 60 days.

The review was announced in a scheduled call with advisors, according to sources at the company familiar with the reconsideration.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, retirement clients at Merrill have been frustrated by the ban because it meant they had to either convert to a fee-based account or to the firm’s cheaper Merrill Edge offering, with fewer investment options, or move their retirement savings to another firm.

“We’d be remiss if we didn’t consider additional flexibility and choice we can provide to clients,” said a source familiar with the situation at Merrill.

“Actions like these are a clear indication that it’s business as usual on Wall Street,” Elliot Weissbluth, CEO of HighTower, said in an email. “With both the DOL and SEC rules failing to protect investors with a true fiduciary standard, firms are going back to taking advantage of customers. It shows that their intention to do the right thing was never pure, but just an attempt to pander to public sentiment. Now, firms are dancing on the grave of the rolled-back regulation.”

He pointed out that HighTower, an RIA firm, uses the fiduciary standard.

Merrill currently offers three options for IRAs:

  • Fee-based Investment Advisory Program, which serves Merrill Lynch Wealth Management clients
  • Limited Purpose Retirement account
  • Merrill Edge Accounts: Guided Investing, Select Portfolios and Self-Directed, and additional alternative platforms.

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