Sunday, October 17, 2010

Merrill Brokers Win $1.167 ML Arb Award For Retained Comp

For those who believe that the wirehouses would not deny compensation to an employee simply to save money, this article from Registered Rep provides some telling information. According to the article, Merrill Lynch's employee policies provide that a broker who resigns for "Good Reason" is entitled to have his deferred compensation benefits vest at the time of his resignation.

According to the article, at the time of its merger with Bank of America, brokers were leaving, and Merrill canceled the deferred comp benefits, and simply refused to pay out any funds for a "Good Reason" resignation, something Merrill Lynch had agreed to in the compensation plans.

Why would Merrill Lynch unilaterally breach an agreement with its employees? We have represented brokers against a number of wirehouses in this sort of situation, and the firm always has an excuse. "Good Reason" doesn't really mean "Good Reason", or we were going to fire him, or his reason wasn't really good, or some technical defense that is obviously a ploy to avoid paying.

When the broker points out the obviously ploy, and claims that they denied benefits or compensation to a particular broker as a cost saving measure , the firm chuckles in a smug way, claiming that the firm is so big that an individual broker's compensation would have no effect on the bottom line, and such a claim was absurd.

Really. According to the article, the value of the stock and cash that Merrill refused to pay its departing brokers was significant - between $100 million and $300 million dollars. Sure, one broker didn't make a difference, but deny all of the departing brokers their compensation, and you are talking about a significant sum of money. The theory is, I suppose, deny all of them compensation, a few will sue, but all of them will not, and we will be ahead of the game even if we lose the arbitrations.

A FINRA arbitration panel just awarded two Merrill brokers over 1.1 million dollars for this conduct. Unfortunately, no interest and no attorneys fees were awarded so perhaps the theory of "let them sue" actually works. The Registered Rep article is here, the award is at FINRA's website.