The whole Fiduciary rule saga seemed to be over earlier this year, but now that couldn’t be further from reality. While the DOL seemed to gracefully fade from the limelight in March, the truth is that the rule is a “sleeping giant’ according to one industry lawyer. That giant has now woken up, as the DOL is set to release an updated version of its rule in September of next year. The big question is how the SEC rule will be affected, and whether the rules will work in tandem. In either case, advisors and brokers seem likely to see much more regulation within a year or so.
FINSUM: The other big question is whether the political changes in Washington mean the SEC rule might be scuttled in some way. We sense some big changes happening.
One aspect of last week’s midterms that is not being discussed much, but has critical relevance for the wealth management industry is that fact that statehouses across the country swung from red to blue. Democrats won control of several state legislatures and governor seats across the nation. The impact on advisors could be large, as many more states are now much less constrained in their ability to urge for, and issue, their own fiduciary rules.
FINSUM: The massive “blue wave” did not materialize, but the gains were substantial enough that they could create some serious headaches for advisors that are in swing states. Perhaps even more concerning is how the blue House might push for a renewed federal fiduciary rule.
In what could be a very worrying sign for the industry, it is being reported today that the SEC may be inserting the word “fiduciary” in its new best interest rule. The word had been conspicuously absent, much to the chagrin of DOL rule advocates. However, the SEC’s own advisory committee now says the word should be included. The SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee saw a majority vote for the inclusion of the word and a fiduciary standard to be applied, something the SEC had diligently avoided until now. The Committee voted 16-3 in favor of the changes.
FINSUM: This seems very likely to now be included in the new rule. Does that mean it should no longer be called the BI rule, but the SEC Fiduciary Rule?
Well the midterms are finally here. However, one thing has become apparent—how these elections will affect financial advisors has not been discussed nearly enough. One of the big concerns advisors should have is about what happens if the Democrats take the House. In this scenario, it seems likely regulation would grow much toughed as fire & brimstone-like Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) would taken the helm of the House Financial Services Committee. Additionally, Republican-led deregulatory measures could be scuttled. One area of possible positivity could be on new legislation for retirees, including new measures to encourage people to save for retirement.
FINSUM: Perhaps the biggest worry regards some sort of defeat of the new SEC rule with renewed support for the DOL rule 2.0. The Democrats fiercely advocate for a comprehensive fiduciary standard, so their ascendance in the House could lead to that becoming a reality.
Over the last couple of years there has been a movement on the fringes of the active management space. That movement was towards funds that only charge investors full and/or rising fees if they outperform a given benchmark. If they underperform, their fees would fall back to ETF levels. Well, that idea has taken a big step recently as major fund provider AllianceBernstein has a handful of so-called “fulcrum funds”. The largest is the AB FlexFee Large Cap Growth Advisor Fund, with $106m under management. A top figure at AB put the goals most clearly, saying “The big impact of this will be if we can take money from passive, or money that would’ve gone there … That’s the ultimate goal here”.
FINSUM: Fulcrum funds make a lot of sense for active managers and clients. If the fund managers do their job and seriously outperform a benchmark, then higher fees make sense. If they don’t, then fees stay low.
One of the big questions financial advisors may have about the midterms has not been discussed much. That question is how the midterm outcome may affect regulation, specifically regarding the SEC rule or forthcoming fiduciary rule 2.0. The answer is that in the most likely scenario—Democrats taking the House and Republicans holding onto the Senate—regulations would get tougher for the wealth management industry. Staunch fiduciary advocate Rep Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) would become the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, and would likely push for much tougher regulation. She has already railed against the new SEC rule for what she sees as a lack of strength.
FINSUM: Democrats taking the house could change the regulatory picture considerably. This seems likely to be one of the biggest risks to a Democrat victory for advisors.