Merrill Lynch & Co reassigned top executives in its U.S. private-client group Monday, giving responsibility for global banking strategy to veteran John L. "Launny" Steffens and naming chief financial officer E. Stanley O'Neal to head its massive retail brokerage operation.

With the promotion, Mr. O' Neal - the highest-ranking African-American at Merrill - is regarded as one of four executives who could fill the vacancy left by Herbert M. Allison Jr., who departed last year as president and chief operations officer.

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