Merrill Lynch & Co. is reportedly in talks to buy the retirement planning business of Bankers Trust New York Corp.

Bankers Trust has been shopping its 401(k) and record keeping business since August. Such a deal would give Merrill control of a $34 billion-asset retirement service business.

Discussions have been under way for several weeks, Bloomberg News reported Thursday. Representatives of Merrill and Bankers Trust declined to comment.

The Bankers Trust unit apparently has already drawn some interest. One source said Travelers Group eyed it several months ago, which may have prompted last month's rumors that the insurance concern wanted to buy Bankers Trust itself. (Travelers later struck a deal to buy Salomon Brothers.)

One analyst said the Bankers Trust portfolio, one of the five largest in the retirement business, may be too big for Merrill to swallow.

Still, such a deal would make Merrill "an instant player," in the 401(k) business, said Paul Kampner, a consultant with TMark Associates, Chicago.

Merrill, meanwhile, has been honing its 401(k) business. Last month it bought the record keeping business of Masterworks, a division of Barclay Global Investors.

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