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Merrill Lynch may 'adjust timeline' to comply with fiduciary rule

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In what could amount to a break with former comments, Merrill Lynch could delay changes it pledged to make to comply with the fiduciary rule.

"We may need to adjust the timelines for certain operational changes we have announced to ensure an orderly transition and a good client experience," said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, in an emailed statement.

The statement was sent to reporters both before and after President Trump moved Friday to delay implementation of the rule. The president's order is seen as an attack on fiduciary principles by many, as well as a cause for celebration by others in the financial services industry. Merrill Lynch did not respond to questions about whether the firm would keep commissions in its retirement accounts after previous statements that it would phase commissions out of its retirement accounts to comply with the Department of Labor's fiduciary or conflicts-of-interest rule.

Last year, Merrill stood alone among the wirehouses in saying early and loudly that it would phase out commissions from its retirement accounts to comply with the new fiduciary rule.

As former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez stepped up to a dais in April to announce the rule in Washington, he held up his mobile phone to show that John Thiel, Sieg's predecessor, had sent a message showing his support for it.

Thiel stepped down from his post last month.

The rule was intended to compel advisers to put their clients financial interests before their own.


Americans lose $17 billion a year to conflicted financial advice, according to estimates from Obama administration economists.

None of the other large firms that took similarly bold stands about fiduciary rule compliance have repeated those positions after Trump's announcement.

JPMorgan Chase and Commonwealth Financial Group, both of which said last year that they would cut commissions in their retirement accounts, declined to comment Friday on whether they will stick to those plans.

LPL Financial, which made large cuts in existing commission structures, provided the following comment:

“LPL continues to believe a best interest standard is appropriate for our industry. We also believe that a consistent approach to disclosure, compensation and mitigation of conflicts of interest is the right path forward for our industry. We will continue to work with the Administration and Congress to ensure the industry serves the best interests of investors.”

A spokesman did not respond when asked if LPL will retain its lowered fee structure following Trump's move.

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