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Merrill Lynch Enters 401(k) Advice Fray


Amidst the tremendous worries and uncertainty surrounding retirement advice, Merrill Lynch of New York is offering an alternative solution with the launch of AdviceAccess, personalized investment advice for individuals in retirement plans. Mark Feuer, a first VP with Merrill Lynch Retirement Group, told reporters on a conference call that the service will "finally answer the question: How should I invest?'"

AdviceAccess seeks to lessen the legwork for individuals by enabling them to tap into advice by their preferred method of contact, whether that's via phone, the Web or in-person consultations. The firm found a dearth in this kind of service and a desire for it after conducting its 2002 Merrill Lynch Retirement Survey. The survey found that 44% of Americans were more likely to seek professional help for their retirement portfolios after the economic downturn began. Merrill also learned that more than half of working Americans mistakenly think that their 401(k) is guaranteed by the federal government.

Moreover, the survey also found that one in five Americans say that they will need an annual retirement income that is at least 100% of what they earn today, and 70% think future retirees will face a personal financial crisis in the future.

James P. Gorman, president of Merrill Lynch U.S. Private Client Group, stressed the inimitability of this service, calling it a "holistic approach for retirement planning."

Merrill Lynch is aiming to be "one institution that provides it all," he said.

The company will work in conjunction with Ibbotson Associates of Chicago to ensure "sound analytics" and up-to-date research.

The service is set to be marketed in a major campaign early next year, Gorman said.

Gorman said he does not expect everyone to accept AdviceAccess initially, but it "fills a real need in the marketplace for employers and employees. They deserve and expect the ability of professional help to work for them."