The Trump administration has slowly but surely exerted its influence on the SEC. After two and half years, the changes are reaching their zenith. The last Democrat at the SEC is set to step down later this year. He is technically entitled to stay through June 2020, but is likely to leave before the autumn, when he is set head back to academia. The departure will open the door to a more conservative appointment. It would also mean there are only three commissioners left at the SEC, two of whom are Republicans, giving them an advantage in SEC matters.
FINSUM: This could have all sorts of ramifications for policy, including the best interest rule. We expect this may have some significant impacts on the the BI rule plays out.
Most of the industry was hoping that states would back off, or at least slow down, their fiduciary rule efforts after the SEC announced it was working alongside them to craft a more comprehensive Best Interest Rule. The idea is that if the SEC could create a rule satisfactory to states, then it would obviate individual state regulations. However, New Jersey is pressing ahead with its own rule. The state formally put forward a new rule yesterday via the Attorney General Burbir Grewal. The rule is comprehensive and advisors would have serious penalties for not abiding. “Conduct falling short of this fiduciary duty would, under the proposed rule, constitute a dishonest and unethical practice,” says an announcement for the state’s Consumer Affairs Division.
FINSUM: We are still hoping the SEC can make a rule that satisfies states, because the last thing consumers or advisors need is fragmentation.
A year ago, annuities looked like a product that had outlived its regulatory life cycle. The pending DOL fiduciary rule seemed completely incompatible with the product and its selling practices, so annuities appeared likely to take a big hit. Then the rule got shot down in court, and the whole picture changed. Data is now in on 2018 annuity sales and it looks strong—sales smashed all previous records. In virtually every category of annuities, sales were up considerably, in many case 20% or more.
FINSUM: The annuity sales outlook has completely changed. The next five years—as the number of people 65 or older hits 60 million—looks to be very strong.
JP Morgan looks like it is about to push further into wealth management. JP Morgan has always had a solid wealth management practice, but one much smaller than wirehouses or other large broker-dealers. However, the firm has now announced that it is planning to grow headcount in the area by nearly 20%, adding over 1,000 new advisors. According to CEO Jamie Dimon, “We are expanding our footprint to capture more of the opportunity across the U.S. wealth management spectrum — from mass affluent ($500,000 to $3 million) to high-net-worth ($3 million to $10 million) to ultra-high-net-worth ($10 million or greater)”.
FINSUM: Wealth management is a very good business if you can get assets, and it seems like JP Morgan is waking up to the fact that it has a better opportunity in the area than it formerly realized.
The so-called “feemageddon” in the asset management industry has been unequivocally good for investors. Fees have dropped across the board, starting with ETFs, but also flowing through to actively managed mutual funds. However, the downward pressure on fees has also created interesting new fee structures. The first one to discuss is the most obvious—free funds. Both Fidelity and Sofi have introduced free index mutual funds and free ETFs, so the line in the sand on fees has been crossed. Other firms, such as Westwood Holdings and AllianceBernstein, have come up with entirely new concepts. AllianceBernstein has a “Flex Fees” actively managed mutual fund which has a low basic fee (ETF-level fee) and then only charges a mark up if it outperforms, offering much better economics to investors. Westwood Holdings, has a little bit different but similar fee arrangement which tries to mitigate the potential for misaligned incentives in “fee only when you outperform” structures, which incentivize portfolio managers to take risks. Their approach is called Sensible Fees, and only rewards incentive compensation to managers based on risk-adjusted performance.
FINSUM: We think the fee disruption going on in the industry is leading to some healthy innovation amongst fund managers. These new funds seem like they will only grow in popularity, especially as fiduciary advisors get more popular.
In what likely comes as frustrating news for a lot of the wealth management industry, it is time to start worrying once again about the return of the fiduciary rule. And we are not talking about state level rules, or new interpretations of the SEC rule, we mean the old DOL rule itself. The DOL announced towards the end of 2018 that it was planning to re-release a new version of the rule in fall of 2019. However, it had been quiet until now. This week, a top industry lawyer has commented that the DOL is again working on new fiduciary regulations and may launch in tandem with the SEC, though specifics are lacking.
FINSUM: So what do we know? Firstly, we know the DOL said it would re-release the rule in the fall of this year. We also know that it seems to be actively working on crafting new fiduciary regulation. We’ll let you put two and two together.