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Merrill Cracks Down on Third-Party Freebies

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Stock photo of Merrill Lynch logo and sign A Merrill Lynch branch office (Photo: AP)

A new policy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch means no more free golf games and much fewer fancy meals hosted by asset managers or other product makers for its 17,888 advisors.

“We’re enhancing our policies around engaging with third-party product and service providers with respect to gifts, meals and entertainment,” the firm said in a statement shared with ThinkAdvisor on Tuesday.

“These changes further ensure business interactions with third parties continue to be in the best interest of our clients,” it added. 

The new policies state that advisors must pay for their own meals and other entertainment at non-educational events. They are, though, allowed free meals at third-party events tied to  “approved educational training or seminar programs.”

“.@Titleist stock definitely going to take a hit,” quipped industry consultant Gavin Spitzner on Twitter, referring to the golf equipment maker. “And on the entertaining kibosh, good timing since there are no events to take advisors to anyhow.” 

Under the new rules, asset managers and other third parties can no longer fund entertainment for Merrill Lynch employees, and any meals provided by asset managers must be associated with educational training.

Earlier, Merrill Lynch advisors could enjoy up to $300 of food and entertainment at an outside event and up to $1,000 a year of such freebies. Now, they have to pay their own way, except for food shared at events specifically tied to continuing education or other training. 

As for gifts like golf supplies or wine, advisors used to be able to receive up to $100 in unbranded goodies. 

Now, they can only accept items that include the brand of the third party and are valued at under $50. Plus, the gift giving “may not be frequent or excessive,” according to the new policies.