Obama comments on IRA fiduciary rules

Presidential Seal[The update is of interest primarily to financial advisors.]

Last week the President gave a speech in which he focused on forthcoming Labor Department rules intended to ensure that IRA holders receive investment advice unencumbered by financial advisor conflicts of interest.  In conjunction with the President’s speech, the Labor Department will be re-issuing proposed rules addressing the extent to which financial advisors may receive compensation in connection with investments made by IRAs and other retirement accounts they advise.  The new proposed rules should be available in the next 60-90 days.

The Labor Department first issued proposed rules on this subject in 2010.  Of great concern to the financial services industry, the 2010 proposed regulations effectively would have precluded financial advisors from receiving commissions and other payments on IRA transactions and investments.  DOL withdrew the proposal in 2011 due to public pressure and concern.

The President’s comments last week contained a good bit of anti-Wall Street rhetoric (“A system where Wall Street firms benefit from backdoor payments and hidden fees if they talk responsible Americans into buying bad retirement investments – with high costs and low returns – instead of recommending quality investments – isn’t fair.”).  They make clear that the Administration is determined to continue to press this issue in some form.  At the same time, the White House material accompanying the comments states that the new proposal will “ensure that all common forms of compensation, such as commissions and revenue sharing, are still permitted.”  This language suggests that the new proposal will be more lenient than the original.

For instance, the new proposal could permit all forms of advisor compensation but require the advisor to disclose to the client conflicts of interest, such as where particular investments result in higher commissions or other payments to the advisor.

The Administration’s continued concern about arrangements that heretofore had not been thought to pose problems is worrisome from the perspective of the securities industry.  On the other hand, the fact that all forms of compensation will remain acceptable suggests that the newly proposed regulations will be at least somewhat less harsh.  My guess is that the industry is still likely to be unhappy with the new proposal, and will push back once it is announced.  The DOL has said the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal, including at a public hearing, before final regulations go into effect, so the matter is far from resolved.

 


Andrew H. Friedman is the principal of The Washington Update LLC and a former senior partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm. He speaks regularly on legislative and regulatory developments and trends affecting investment, insurance, and retirement products. He may be reached at www.TheWashingtonUpdate.com.

Neither the author of this paper, nor any law firm with which the author may be associated, is providing legal or tax advice as to the matters discussed herein. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities). Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.

Copyright Andrew H. Friedman 2015. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.