The SEC’s Best Interest rule is still being digested by markets. It contains some potentially big changes, including the definition of fiduciary duty. The DOL is yet to release its new Fiduciary Rule, but it will reportedly work smoothly alongside the SEC’s rule. One of the questions that has arisen in this context is whether under the new rules it may be increasingly easy for fiduciaries to accept commissions. The idea of fiduciaries accepting commissions is generally a big no-no in the current paradigm, but top industry lawyers like Fred Reish see this loosening under the new rules. In particular, it is seeming as though broker-dealers could accept commissions when offering fiduciary advice, but the jury is still out on RIAs.
FINSUM: This is just one of the many new changes that are on the horizon. The combination of new rules will likely create grey areas, risks, and opportunities that are not yet apparent.
RIAs all over the country have been quite confused over the last couple of weeks. Ever since the SEC’s infamous change from “and” to “or” regarding fiduciary duty and a new ban on the use of the word for certain advisors, RIAs have been unsure about whether they are allowed to called themselves “fiduciaries”. On the one hand, the ban of the term’s use for certain groups made it seem like they could not use it, while on the other the technical definition of their duty had changed such that they no longer need to be fiduciaries to in order to comply with the SEC’s rules on defining an RIA. The SEC cleared up confusion late last week, however, saying that RIAs could continue to call themselves fiduciaries as the ban on use of the word does not apply to them, and nothing has changed to limit their use of the term.
FINSUM: While many RIAs are unhappy with the recent changes because of how they will water down the RIA brand, at least the SEC was very quick to clear up this confusion.
RIAs need to ready themselves for an onslaught of broker marketing. Changes to the SEC’s rules on fiduciary advice means brokers can now say that they put client interests ahead of their own. This is leading industry experts to expect a marketing bonanza that is expected to help brokers capture market share back from RIAs, who are having their niche diluted by the changing rules. Accordingly, RIAs will need to recraft their narrative, changing marketing language in order to re-differentiate themselves from brokers.
FINSUM: The big loser in the new regulatory push has been RIAs, as they have essentially had their turf artificially eaten away from some shifts in language by the SEC. That said, they have been gaining market share for years, so are in a better position to begin with.
RIAs were shocked and stunned by the SEC’s new Best Interest rule. The reason why comes down to one word. By substituting an “and” for an “or”, the SEC basically dissolved the necessity for fiduciary duty of RIAs. Fiduciary duty until now was defined by advisors having to avoid all conflicts of interest AND make a full disclosure of all material conflicts of interest. Now the rule will have an “or” instead of an and, meaning RIAs could abide by the rule simply through disclosure, eliminating a key tenet of fiduciary duty. One industry insider commented bluntly, “It guts the RIA industry”, continuing “RIAs are not fiduciaries anymore”.
FINSUM: This is a big deal for the RIA business because it means a whole slew of new advisors can call themselves RIAs but not meet the standard and reputation that has been cultivated over decades.
Barron’s has published a piece which covers a survey of wealthy Americans. The survey sought to find out how the wealthiest Americans felt about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan for a wealthy tax of 2-3% on those with over $50m or over $1 bn in wealth. The results were surprisingly, with 60% of wealthy respondents saying they would embrace the plan. The feedback was split on party lines, with 88% of Democrats agreeing, 62% of independents, and 36% of Republicans in favor of it.
FINSUM: We are somewhat skeptical of these stats. Advisors, please email us with any anecdotes on how your clients have reacted to this plan.
Whereas the DOL’s first fiduciary rule was highly specific, the SEC’s new version of the best interest rule is anything but. The first version of the rule was reasonably vague, such as not defining “best interest”, but this new version is even more cloudy. For instance, industry players cannot agree if the rule is stronger or weaker than the last version. Some language has been removed that might make the rule seem weaker, but on the other hand, so much of it is constructed in a manner than tries to use context to make rules, that it is hard to tell. For instance, even the head of trade group Investment Adviser Association says that "People can look at this interpretation and select phrases that concern them or comfort them”.
FINSUM: The interesting thing here is that the SEC has deliberately taken the route of making the new rule implicit versus explicit. The whole methodology is designed around not defining things so that they cannot be worked around, but that makes the whole body itself up for interpretation.