On a late May morning, Richard Brown, chief financial officer of John Hancock Funds, arrived at his tenth-floor Boston office and sat down to an unhappy task. He peered out his window at the Charles River and the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sighed, and picked up the phone.

Brown was about to call six companies and deliver some bad news. After undergoing a 13-month review, the firms had missed out on a chance to perform custodial services for John Hancock's $26 billion in mutual fund assets.

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