Call it a case of broker neglect.
Three former Merrill Lynch advisors have filed a class action lawsuit against their ex-employer, accusing Merrill of having neglected its international advisory business, detrimentally harming advisors' business and clients.
The allegations stem from Merrill's sale of its overseas advisory business to Julius Baer and policy changes the firm made in recent years, according to the lawsuit which was filed in U.S. district court on Friday.
Merrill's moves were effectively a breach of contract and covenant, spurring some advisors to seek employment elsewhere — which in turn forced those departing advisors to repay promissory notes early, and from which Merrill profited unfairly, the plaintiffs allege.
The Miami-based advisors who brought the suit were longtime veterans of the wirehouse. Miguel Sosa started his career at Merrill Lynch in 1982, leaving the firm in January for Global Investor Services, according to FINRA BrokerCheck records. Sosa was also a member of Merrill's Advisory Council to Management from 2002 to 2005, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Graciela Perez began her career at the firm in 1996 while her son, Jorge Perez, had been with the firm since 2003, according to BrokerCheck records and her LinkedIn profile. They parted ways with Merrill last November, leaving to join Boston Global Capital, an independent broker-dealer.
'NOT A PROPER REPLACEMENT'
In 2012, Merrill entered a deal to sell its international advisory business, which included approximately 700 advisors, to Julius Baer. The sale, which closed the following year, included advisors based overseas plus additional staff, but not the roughly 300 based in the U.S., according to court documents.
Although Merrill — not wanting to lose billions in client assets in the U.S. — assured the remaining advisors that they would continue to receive sufficient support and resources, the firm failed to deliver on these promises, according to the plaintiffs.
"After the Julius Baer sale, considerable international expertise left the Merrill Lynch 'back office' and the domestic 'back office' was not a proper replacement," the advisors allege in court documents.
Further policy changes, including some made last summer and Merrill's alleged bid to sell the remaining international unit, adversely affected advisors' businesses and hampered their earnings at the firm as a result, the advisors allege.
"Based upon the various policy changes, many financial advisors were forced to leave Merrill Lynch in order to preserve and service their international business and clientele. Such departing financial advisors were damaged through the loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of unvested deferred compensation, paying back promissory notes prior to expiration of the term, emotional distress and other harms," the advisors allege in court documents.
The advisors are asking for class action status, saying their suit represents more than 100 affected advisors. Furthermore, they are asking for unspecified damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and other misconduct, according to court documents. They're also asking for trial by jury in U.S. district court.
Neither the advisors nor their attorney returned calls seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Merrill declined to comment.
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