Some Merrill DC Advisers to Take 3(21) Status

Beginning in April, a select group of Merrill Lynch financial advisers will offer defined contribution (DC) investment consulting services to manage fiduciary risk.

This is in response to a growing demand among corporate retirement plan sponsors for these services, which will be introduced through a phased rollout during the remainder of this year and next. Services will be available to institutional clients with a minimum of $25 million in DC plan assets.

Steve Ulian, head of Institutional Retirement Relationship Management for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told PLANADVISER that the middle market of $25 million up to $250 million, in particular, has requested this service. Ulian said plan sponsors realize they are not in the best position to “go it alone,” and they want help with fiduciary responsibilities.

Nearly 250 Merrill Lynch advisers hold one of the company’s specialized Defined Contribution or Global Institutional Consulting designations, allowing them to serve plan sponsors’ more complex benefit plan needs. Beginning in April, these benefit plan professionals will have the opportunity to be designated to provide Defined Contribution Investment Consulting services.

Kevin Crain, head of Institutional Retirement & Benefit Services for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, estimates that about 30 to 50 advisers will make up the initial group of 3(21) fiduciary advisers, who will help clients with investment menu selection and design.

The company is also offering supplemental employee education services.

“We thought as part of this consulting offer, this type of service is important to complete the picture for advisers as a value they can add,” Crain said.

The advisers will not serve as 3(21) fiduciaries regarding advice on participants’ investment allocations, but they will provide supplemental education to plan sponsors and participants. The company’s Advice Access program, separate from the aforementioned service, provides advice to 401(k) plan participants about the Bank of America Merrill Lynch proprietary recordkeeping platform.

“Our specialized financial advisers work closely with corporate clients to help ensure that their defined contribution plans are more successful and give employees long-term financial security,” Crain said. “This includes giving employers greater assistance and assurance that plans are meeting their objectives and industry standards, and putting employees in a better position to achieve financial wellness at every life stage.”