The Securities and Exchange Commission reportedly fears that investment companies may have paid retirement-plan consultants in order to steer business their way. A probe that began last December looking into possible conflicts of interest in the financial-services industry has uncovered troubling evidence of improper payments to the pension planners, according to the SEC.

A retirement subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance giant and parent company of Putnam Investments, has already come under SEC questioning for this practice. However, in a statement, the firm said it does not "request, require or accept payment from investment managers in order for them to be included or recommended in a manager or mutual-fund search."

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