Advisors need to start thinking about what the post-election tax landscape might look like for clients, especially high earners. The proposed Biden/Democratic tax package is even more stringent than many think, as when you diver deeper it becomes clear that the increases are quite extensive. One core element that is less understood is Biden’s Social Security Payroll tax of 12.4%, which applies to all income with no cap (all income between $137,000 and $400,000 would be taxed at the same level). Combining that with a raised federal tax rate of 39.6%, and state taxes means that some residents of high tax states could see punitive-levels. For example, in California, which has a 13.3% top tax rate, the total tax burden for high earners would be over 65%! Even in states without state taxes, income taxes could be 52%. Furthermore, Biden intends to eliminate capital gains tax rates for those who earn more than $1m, effectively doubling the capital gains tax rate.
FINSUM: There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is obvious. The good news is that because of the state of the economy and the need for fiscal stimulus, Democrats are unlikely to pass these measure until we re-reach full employment, which could be years.
LPL has been a true leader on the recruiting front in 2020. One should expect no less from the largest independent broker-dealer. As one of their new initiatives, they have just launched a program—called the “independent employee” model—to try to attract new advisors who want some of the benefits of being independent, but also want to be a W-2 employee. Such models have been around for a long time, and are most prevalent at Raymond James and Ameriprise, but LPL thinks there is an opportunity to scale it up. The program is designed to appeal to wirehouse advisors who like being W-2s but want to earn higher payouts. Payouts for the program range from 50-70%.
FINSUM: If an IBD is a halfway house between being a wirehouse advisor and being an independent RIA, then this is a one-quarter-way house. It does seem like this might be a smart move—W-2 benefits with higher payouts.
Advisors are mostly a conservative bunch, so many are incredulous of the current political polls. Others just don’t want to think about a Biden presidency. That said, if oddsmakers are right and the Democrats take over in a January, a strict new fiduciary rule is likely on the way much faster than almost anyone in the industry suspects. The reason why is the method the Democrats are likely to use to make a new rule. While all of us have seen how slow the rulemaking process has been at the DOL and SEC—and have probably thought of that as the status quo—Barbara Roper from the Consumer Federation of America pointed out this week that instead of crafting a new rule, democrats are probably just going to use the existing Reg BI framework and modify it.
FINSUM: Using an existing rule infrastructure and just beefing up parts of it would be a much quicker process than crafting a new rule. We might have a strict fiduciary rule by June 2021. You have been warned.
Something very interesting is happening in recruiting. While advisor movement slowed down right at the beginning of the pandemic, it has bounced back strongly in the last couple month. The reason why is that advisors are finding it easier to explore opportunities with new firms while they are working from home. Any advisor recruiter will tell you that calling a wirehouse broker at their branch is an almost impossible task as the office itself works as a gatekeeper. Even if you can get the advisor on the phone, it is taboo for them to speak about moving firms while they are in the office. Thus, the ability to take zoom calls from their comfort of their kitchen has opened the door to more recruiting since advisors are free to explore firms in-depth and with total privacy. Further, the lack of a need for offices has made advisors wonder if they need the infrastructure (and lower payouts) that come with being at a wirehouse.
FINSUM: The landscape for recruiting has changed overnight. No conferences, but no office gatekeepers either! It seems a great time for advisors to consider a move, and firms would be smart to put effort into recruiting right now as this is truly an unprecedented opportunity.
Last week Democrats published a wide-ranging agenda for the potential Biden presidency. One section of it—which received much publicity in our niche wealth management world—was about the party’s intent to get rid of the SEC’s new Reg BI. However, another part of that plan was much less covered, but no less important: the party also wants to bring back a true fiduciary rule, potentially very similar to the failed DOL rule 1.0. Interestingly, Barbara Roper, head of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, says that the approach the Democrats would likely take is not to create an entirely new rule, but edit and “reign in” conflicts in the existing rule.
FINSUM: So this is quite unsurprising, but very important. What was interesting to us is Roper’s comment about the way Democrats would likely go about this. In our view, modifying an existing rule would be much faster than crafting a new one, which means a new version might come into force a whole lot faster than expected.
Here is an eye-opener for you: odds are that 7 months from today the SEC’s Reg BI and the new fiduciary rule will be no more. The Democrats—who are currently leading in the polls—have published an action plan for a potential Biden presidency. Included in it was a clear plan to reverse the current version of Reg BI, all according to a section of the report entitled “Guaranteeing a Secure and Dignified Retirement”. On page 24 of the document, Democrats say “Democrats believe that when workers are saving for retirement, the financial advisors they consult should be legally obligated to put their client’s best interests first. We will take immediate action to reverse the Trump Administration’s regulations allowing financial advisors to prioritize their self-interest over their clients’ financial wellbeing”.
FINSUM: Because of how polls are trending, these kind of manifestos are becoming very relevant for advisors to consider.