FINRA Orders Merrill Lynch to Repay $89M in Restitution, $8M Fine for Excessive Mutual Fund Fees for Charities, Retirement Accounts

FINRA says Bank of America (BAC) Merrill Lynch failed to waive mutual fund sales charges for a number of retirement accounts and charities. Now the wirehouse must pay as restitution $89 million and a fine of $8 million. The firm settled without denying or admitting to the findings.

The majority of mutual funds with the firm’s retail platform are supposed waive specific fees for charities and retirement plans that qualify for this consideration. However, Merrill Lynch neglected to ensure that its advisers were correctly implementing these waivers. This impacted 41,000 accounts.

The SRO says that from about ’06 – ’11, firm advisers put tens of thousands of accounts into certain funds, including Class A mutual fund shares, and promised to waive specific sales charges for charities and retirement accounts. It then did not act to ensure that all of the fees were actually waived.

In a statement, FINRA said that Merrill Lynch’s formal procedures don’t offer enough guidance or information about these waivers. Even when the firm found out that the waivers weren’t implemented in all eligible accounts, it still depended on its advisers to waive the fees. The regulator believes that Merrill Lynch did not properly supervise the sales nor did it notify or train its staff that there might be less costly alternatives they could offer investors.

A spokesman for Bank of America Merrill Lynch said the issue is a legacy one from prior to the merging of Bank of America with Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc. The discrepancy was discovered after the acquisition. FINRA said that even though the firm discovered the problem as early as in 2006, it did not notify the SRO about it until 2011.

Investors have already been repaid $65 million of the $89 million in restitution. $21.2 million will go to some 13,000 small business retirement accounts. More than 2.1 million 403(B) retirement accounts will get $3.2 million.

Please contact the SSEK Partners Group today.

Finra tags Merrill Lynch with $8 million fine for mutual fund sales charges
, Investment News, June 16, 2014

FINRA Fines Merrill Lynch $8 Million; Over $89 Million Repaid to Retirement Accounts and Charities Overcharged for Mutual Funds, FINRA, June 16, 2014

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