Merrill Lynch: Firing of top adviser was for compliance lapses

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Thomas J. Buck, a powerhouse investment broker who unexpectedly left the local office of Merrill Lynch last month, was fired due to "management's loss of confidence," the company disclosed in newly released regulatory filing.

Buck, 61, who spent nearly 34 years at Merrill Lynch while becoming one of the country’s top financial advisers, was officially discharged March 4, according to the federal Form U5, which details reasons for broker departures.

On the form, Merrill Lynch claimed Buck failed to "discuss service level and pricing alternatives with a customer" and "provided inaccurate information to firm management during account reviews" regarding the issue.

Buck also allegedly mismarked "bond cross trade order tickets as unsolicited," and gave a client information that didn't match firm records.

Merrill Lynch previously declined to discuss the reasons for Buck's departure and whether he had been fired or left on his own.

In an interview with Investment News last week, Buck downplayed the seriousness of the compliance allegations but said he does not plan to challenge the dismissal. He said he is working with a recruiting firm to find new employment.

He told the publication that he arrived at work the morning of March 4 for what he thought was a routine meeting with local managers over how he ran his investment advisory practice. By the end of the day, he was escorted from the building.

“I was totally blindsided,” he said. “I'm thinking I'm going into the back nine of my career and going to leave a nice legacy.”

Barron's, which ranked Buck as the top financial adviser in Indiana in every year since 2009, said he had $1.5 billion in client assets under management. His roughly 500 clients had a typical net worth of $10 million, Barron’s reported.

He was ranked 80th on Barron’s 2014 list of the country’s top 100 financial advisers.

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA, Buck had one other run-in with regulators before his dismissal. In 2006, he settled a dispute from a client who claimed excessive fees and an unauthorized purchase of a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The case was settled for $75,000.

Buck had been senior vice president of investments at Merrill Lynch and ran The Buck Group, a team of about a dozen advisers, including his daughter, Ann Buck.

Ann Buck, 29, left the firm the same week as her father's firing.

Mark Maddox, a securities attorney for Indianapolis-based Maddox Hargett & Caruso, said Buck will have two years to get licensed with another brokerage firm before his certifications expire.

Maddox, who served as Indiana’s securities commissioner from 1989 to 1991, said FINRA is likely to investigate the compliance issues and could suspend Buck from brokerage or advisory practice if they are found to be serious.

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