Bank of America Merrill Lynch's expansion of its retirement services business is picking up momentum.

Enlarging the operation has been a key initiative for the Charlotte company for the past year, and its "recommitment" to the business is really beginning to see results "in terms of sales traction in the marketplace," Andy Sieg, head of BoA Merrill Lynch retirement and philanthropic services, said in an interview last week.

In the first six month of this year, the unit generated more than $13 billion in new retirement business, which is more than it accumulated for all of 2009. At March 31, the unit was responsible for about $500 billion in client assets.

"The pace of sales is running well ahead of our forecast and objectives," Sieg said. "The momentum is strong and these additions will redouble momentum."

BoA Merrill Lynch said in an internal memo Thursday that it hired two veterans from Fidelity Investments, Rich Linton as head of business retirement solutions, and Steve Ulian as head of institutional retirement and benefits solutions.

Linton, 42, will be responsible for managing B of A Merrill Lynch's small-business retirement solutions including its Advisor Alliance platform, which was formerly MLConnect, and the SEP/Simple offering, which is an individual retirement account offering for small businesses.

He was an executive vice president of the adviser retirement group at Fidelity, where he held a variety of senior executive positions since he started at the Boston company in 1990.

Ulian, 46, will run BoA Merrill Lynch's proprietary 401(k) platform, defined benefit plan administration, requests for proposals, pricing and underwriting as well as equity plan services.

He was an executive vice president in sales and relationship management for Fidelity's workplace investing group. He has worked at Fidelity since 2005. Before that, he was a national sales manager and an operations team leader at Deutsche Bank/Scudder Investments, where he led its retirement services business.

Both Linton and Ulian will take on responsibilities that were handled by John Furlong, who left in January to pursue other opportunities. They will report to Sieg, who said the pair will help BoA Merrill Lynch penetrate both ends of the retirement market.

He said Ulian will focus on delivering integrated benefits solutions to mid- and large-market companies and Linton will focus on smaller businesses.

Sieg said Linton will work with executives throughout the parent bank to cross-sell retirement solutions to its 4 million small-business customers.

In June, BoA Merrill Lynch relaunched Advisor Alliance, a retirement services platform for companies with fewer than 100 employees, to attract more business from small businesses. The platform allows Merrill Lynch advisers to sell record keeping and retirement plan administration services to small-business owners.

Sieg said he thinks there are opportunities to work more closely with small-business owners. Bank of America Global Commercial Bank has relationships with one out of every three midsize businesses nationally. This year the company's global commercial bank had referred more than 2,100 clients to the B of A Merrill Lynch institutional retirement business, as of June 30.

Sieg said BoA has "only scratched the surface of the referral opportunities that exist between these two businesses."

Adding retirement assets has been a major initiative at BoA since it hired Sallie Krawcheck in August as the $2.39 trillion-asset company's head of wealth management and brokerage operations. In October, B of A rolled out My Retirement Income, a group of products that let customers nearing or in retirement automatically transfer funds from a Merrill Lynch cash management account into a BoA deposit account monthly or quarterly.

Sieg said his unit will continue to look to hire to support its growth.

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