Advisors, don’t hold your breath. Despite widespread criticism from basically every side of the equation, it appears unlikely the SEC is going to do much to correct the major flaws in its current Best Interest Rule. Barbara Roper of the CFA, says that she is “not at all confident” the SEC will make any meaningful changes to the rule “to better protect investors”, pointing out that the SEC had every chance to improve on the DOL rule, but didn’t. “It’s hard to believe that they are going to have a sudden conversion and fix the problems now”, she says.
FINSUM: Brokers, consumer protection groups, and clients all hate this rule (and don’t understand it), and it doesn’t make sense to anybody. Hopefully Roper is wrong and they will change the rule, but we worry they may not.
The SEC’s best interest rule has been giving brokers headaches almost since the demise of the DOL rule. Many groups have commented on the rule’s failing, including its governance on the use of titles and its deeply confusing attempt at delineating between brokers and advisors. However, one of those gripes now seems to have played out in practice, as early results from the SEC’s testing of its Customer Relationship Summary form (CRS) has essentially failed. According to the chief of the firm hired to do the study for the SEC, “Overall, participants had difficulty throughout the proposed CRS with sorting out the similarities and differences between the broker/dealer services and investment advisor services, and integrating this information across sections”.
FINSUM: This supports exactly what everyone in the industry has been saying—the rule is totally confusing and does nothing to help consumers. The SEC is going to have to do a major rewrite.
Advisors need to prepare themselves for a nasty eventuality that looks like a near certainty when the market next crashes. According to a top wealth management lawyer, there are likely to be a great deal of lawsuits filed by clients against their advisors whenever the next big crash comes. The lawsuits will be focused on claims of reverse churning, or that advisors put client money in fee-baseds account in order to collect fees without offering significant advice or trading. Since switching clients into fee-based accounts (versus commission-based accounts) has been a very common practice over the last several years, the atmosphere is ripe for a massive wave of lawsuits.
FINSUM: This article is worryingly insightful. The big switch to fee-based accounts, which preceded but also corresponded to the DOL rule, might have set up advisors for some major legal headaches in the next downturn.
Fidelity is doubling down on its recent move to offer completely free index funds with no investment minimums. The money manager will launch a pair of new free index funds, one focused on large caps, and the other on the “extended market” (or small and midcaps), in late September. The new free funds are part of Fidelity’s strategy to compete vigorously on pricing to bring in new clients, and then try to earn money from them spending on other services.
FINSUM: Fidelity is almost using these funds as loss leaders in order to drum up other business. This may work for them because they have such a large product suite, but for less diversified managers, it poses a serious challenge.
For several years Vanguard was seen as the champion of low-cost investing. It led the revolution in ever-lower cost ETFs. However, just recently, it seems to have fallen on hard times as it is facing challenges on multiple fronts. In particular, it is suffering at the hands of Fidelity, which is undercutting it on fund pricing. Fidelity’s recent no-fee index funds mean they are even cheaper than Vanguard’s lowest cost funds. The second, and perhaps even more worrisome challenge, relates to investment minimums, which Fidelity did away with on its cheapest funds. Vanguard’s minimums are now starting to look old-fashioned by comparison.
FINSUM: The best way for Vanguard to compete would be to merge some of the classes of their products. However, doing so would require a big revenue haircut, all of which means the company has some tough choices to make.
Fidelity made a huge splash in the asset and wealth management world’ about a month ago when it launched the markets first completely free indexed mutual funds, and with no investment minimums. The move sparked big share price losses for other asset managers and seemed to spell doom for the industry. But how have the funds actually performed so far? The answer is well. The pair of funds have taken in almost $1 bn of client money in just a month, which is considered a solid success.
FINSUM: We think this is a good showing for Fidelity, but one of the other issues the zero fee funds have brought up is that there are many other terms of index funds that investors need to pay close attention to. Not just price.