If there was ever exciting news in the fiduciary rule saga, this is it. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the SEC will deliver a proposed comprehensive fiduciary rule in the second quarter of this year. The challenge of delivering a rule governing all accounts will be very challenging however, even as the SEC says it is fast-tracking development, as it will be bombarded from both sides. One of the directors from the Consumer Federation of America puts it bluntly, “It’s difficult to see how they can come up with a solution that does not land them in court … If they propose a rule we like, industry will sue them. If they give industry a disclosure-based best interest standard that they want, we’ll sue them”.
FINSUM: The SEC is in a tough position, but them coming up with a proposal for a comprehensive rule would be a step in the right direction.
Advisors keep your eyes open, FINRA has put out a new warning on what not to do. The regulator says that dually-registered advisors need to be very careful when moving client funds from a brokerage to an advisory account. FINRA explains best, saying “Finra will review situations in which registered representatives recommend a switch from a brokerage account where that switch clearly disadvantages the customer … such as where the registered representative recommended that the customer purchase a securities product subject to a front-end sales charge in a brokerage account and then shortly thereafter recommended that account be transferred to a fee-based account”.
FINSUM: This is sort of a suitability/fiduciary rule hybrid type of enforcement. We thought all advisors should be aware that FINRA is on the lookout for this.
Those hoping for a complete end to the DOL’s fiduciary rule should keep their fingers crossed, as despite political pushback, and success on slowing down the rule, the GOP is still working hard to defeat the rule. The newest chance comes in the form of a rider on the current spending bill which is designed to do away with the rule. Previous attempts at doing so have been heavily opposed by Democrats.
FINSUM: We think this one actually has a better chance of getting through. The reason why is that the tide has definitively turned against the DOL rule, and so Democrats may be more willing to give it up as a trade or concession as part of a spending deal.
2017 was a wild year for both the wealth management industry and for its most famous regulation—the fiduciary rule. But what will happen in 2018? The answer is a lot, and not all in the direction some might think. While the DOL rule does feel like it might be on its last legs given the long delay and SEC involvement in developing a new rule, there are some factors which might help it, or at least advance the fiduciary rule cause. For instance, industry buy-in of the rule, especially by big firms, is increasing as they realize it is more profitable to adhere because of higher revenues from fee-based accounts. Additionally, many states are working on their own rules, another factor likely to push federal rule-makers. Finally, the SEC may come out with its own universal rule this year.
FINSUM: We expect it to be another wild ride in the fiduciary saga this year. Our best bet is that the SEC will come close to making a rule this year, but that it will not be implemented until mid 2019.
The battle over client is heating up again. On one side stands the broker, and on the other, the firm. Who owns the client relationship? Both say they do. Some may have been wondering where FINRA stands on the issue. However, the regulator has just taken the easy way out, saying it has no stance on the question. FINRA says it is not involved in the broker protocol and takes no sides on the topic, though it does have arbitration rules to handle disputes. Brokers want a FINRA rule, or at least process on the issue, with one attorney saying “Finra needs to convene an industry conference to finally be able to decide on what’s a workable definition of who owns the customer … There’s got to be a better way of doing this than TROs and arbitration”.
FINSUM: The broker protocol seems likely to completely dissolve this year. Hopefully something workable will take its place, because the legal alternatives are not great for anyone (other than lawyers!).
Advisors need to pay very close attention to what states are doing on taxes. As might have been expected, states with high taxes are working hard to come up with solutions that protect their residents from the higher payouts trying to be imposed by the federal government. The new tax package limits state and local deductions (“SALT”) to just $10,000, which means much higher tax bills for residents of higher tax states. While New York is preparing to sue the federal government over the changes, California has already come up with what looks like a good solution. Residents of the state can simply donate to the “California Excellence Fund” instead pf paying taxes, as such a charitable gift is deductible in the new federal package.
FINSUM: New York may also use the same plan as California is using. All the states seem likely to do this. What a big waste of time and energy because of a silly rule.