The SEC issued a pretty stern warning (or reminder, depending on how you look at it) to brokers this week. SEC chairman Jay Clayton issued a very direct statement addressing broker-dealers and saying that they needed to take “special care” when making 401(k)/IRA rollovers because form CRS, as part of Reg BI, would cover such transactions. Clayton also emphasized that 401(k)/IRA rollovers are considered a primary feature of the rule, saying that it was one of the “most significant enhancements over the status quo … should be approached with care”. He concluded “Firms should recognize that these recommendations are subject to Reg BI and ensure that their policies and procedures meet the requirements of Reg BI, the Advisers Act and Form CRS, as appropriate”.
FINSUM: Just in case anyone wasn’t clear, the SEC just made it abundantly obvious that there is no wiggle room here. The most interesting thing to us in this statement is how he seemed to indicate this will be the key focus of the SEC (which will likely be reflected in enforcement).
While the actual language of the new DOL Fiduciary Rule has not been released to the public yet, its contents are growing more and more clear. According to numerous industry insiders, it looks overwhelmingly likely that the new DOL rule will not even attempt to touch the $10 tn pool of IRA assets and will instead leave those under the oversight of the IRS—which is exactly what the industry wants to happens. That means the DOL is only going after 401(k) assets, which at $9 tn, constitute a little under half of the total pool of assets the DOL could have tried to stake its claim on.
FINSUM: This is good news for those worried the new rule would govern IRA assets as well. Another interesting sign from the DOL came last week—the department announced it would now allow 401(k) assets to be invested in private equity deals.
We have some interesting new information about the recently re-drafted DOL fiduciary rule. Last week, the DOL sent what is largely considered to be its new fiduciary rule—entitled “Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees Exemption”—to the OMB. The rule’s text has not been released, so to this point there has only been speculation about its contents. That said, a top industry lawyer familiar with the current process has said he expects the rule to have very close coordination with the SEC’s Reg BI. So much so, in fact that the lawyer—George Michael Gerstein, co-chair of the fiduciary governance group at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young—expects if a firm is abiding by Reg BI it would likely be entirely exempt from the fiduciary rule. In his own words, “The DOL leadership under President [Donald] Trump has emphasized that they want the SEC to take the lead in terms of conflict of interest regulations, particularly when it comes to brokerage practices. It now seems likely that, if a broker/dealer [B/D] engages in actions that amount to providing investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act [ERISA], to the extent that the entity complies with Reg BI, that will be sufficient for meeting ERISA’s fiduciary duties.”
FINSUM: It sounds like Reg BI is going to be the dominant rule, and that anyone abiding by it may be exempt from DOL enforcement. This will likely be music to the ears of many in the industry.
It has been long in the works. So long, in fact, that many seem to have forgotten about it. Yet here it is—a new fiduciary rule from the DOL, almost three years after the last one was vacated. The new version of the rule has just been delivered to the White House for review by the Office of Management and Budget. This starts a multi-month process that may lead to its implementation, but given how late the rule is arriving it may not get enacted before Trump could potentially leave office. If Trump wins the election, the timing is irrelevant, but if he loses and the rule has been in place less than 60 days when the new president takes over, it can very easily be reversed.
FINSUM: We have not yet seen a good summary of the contents of this rule, but will be covering it as soon as possible. The only thing we have heard is that the new rule is “is primarily a prohibited transaction exemption intended to replace the Best Interest Contract Exemption”.
A whole squad of industry players are trying to stop the SEC’s new Reg BI in its tracks. From individual firms (like Michael Kitces’) to trade groups, many are filing lawsuits to stop the implementation of Reg BI. One of the critical arguments seems to be that the new Reg BI does not sufficiently protect investors under the rules of the Dodd-Frank Act. One principal at XY Planning Network says, simply, “Reg BI makes it more difficult for customers to differentiate between financial planners who are bound by fiduciary obligations and for broker-dealers who may consider their own financial interests”.
FINSUM: Both broker-dealers and RIAs are against this rule. For the former, it complicates life, and for the latter, it muddles some of their “fiduciary” thunder. Nonetheless, it seems the rule is likely to implemented on schedule.
If you survey advisors—which many have done—they will tell you that the hardest part of the forthcoming Reg BI rule from the SEC is how to handle all the requirements of the new Customer Relationship Summary form (Form CRS). With that in mind, Pershing has just launched an interesting new end-to-end Form CRS product that helps advisors comply with the rule, as well as a Tracking and Reporting Solution. According to Pershing, “We recognize that account opening is not the only [thing used], so we’ve rolled out a new forms management system where the CRS can be directed and stored digitally, and married that system with a number of trigger points that require the delivery of a Form CRS … We’ve given our clients the opportunity to both deliver forms in paper where it’s still necessary, or digitally to the extent that the investor has opted into electronic delivery”.
FINSUM: Compliance with Form CRS is a challenge, and one that is being exacerbated by COVID and people working from home. This sounds like a great solution.