By Jessica Toonkel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bank of America <BAC.N> is moving its $19 billion 401(k) plan to its own Bank of America Merrill Lynch institutional retirement platform early in 2015, six years after the bank bought Merrill Lynch.
Bank of America's 401(k) plan, which serves more than 300,000 participants, is currently managed by Fidelity Investments.
The company will move the plan in-house to administer as one of the final steps of transitioning a number of its financial benefit plans to one platform, a spokesman said.
Fidelity will continue to oversee the administration of Bank of America's defined benefit pension plan and transferred savings account defined contribution plan, a Fidelity spokeswoman said. Furthermore, Bank of America is moving its Countrywide Pension Plan participants into their defined benefit plan at Fidelity.
Bank of America's 401(k) plan is the eighth largest in the United States in terms of assets, based on the bank's most recent numbers, according to BrightScope, which tracks and rates retirement plans.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc <WFC.N> has the ninth largest plan with $18 billion in assets, according to BrightScope. With 1.2 million participants, Wal-Mart's plan is the largest in terms of participants.
Bank of America's announcement comes as Wal-Mart is in the midst of deciding whether to keep Bank of America Merrill Lynch as the administrator of its 401(k) plan, observers said.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer is talking to Wells Fargo & Co's <WFC.N> retirement division about managing the program, which has been administered by Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit for 15 years, sources have told Reuters <ID: nL2N0EW1X3>.
"This takes out an obstacle for Bank of America in selling into the large plan market," said Martin Schmidt, an independent retirement plan consultant in Chicago. "The fact that they are administering their own plan, and it's not just a large plan, it is a jumbo plan."
The Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on the Wal-Mart plan.
(Editing by Bob Burgdorfer, Phil Berlowitz, Linda Stern, Leslie Gevirtz)