The High Standard That Large Wirehouses Have Fought to Avoid for Decades
By now you may have heard of the Fiduciary Rule. Of course, if your financial advisor is already a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA), it’s likely you already know that your advisor is held to the fiduciary standard, as defined by the Federal government since passage of the Investment Advisors Act in 1940. Since 1975, financial advisors have been subjected to a 5-part test by the Department of Labor (DOL), which then deems them a fiduciary for their clients. They therefore must put the interests of their clients ahead of their own.
However, not everyone providing investment advice is held to the same standard by regulators.
Broker-dealers are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which holds them to a lower standard, called the suitability standard. As the DOL explains, this is costing Americans Billions of dollars in hidden fees and bad investments:
A system where firms can benefit from backdoor payments and hidden fees often buried in fine print if they talk responsible Americans into buying bad retirement investments with high costs and low returns instead of recommending quality investments isn’t fair.
Some of the nation’s largest investment firms have been held to this lower standard for decades. The standard, which requires only that investment advice be suitable to the client, has shown to produce conflicts of interest, primarily when considering fees. Because the client’s interest is not above his own, the broker-dealer advisor, who is loyal to the broker-dealer, may have more incentive to generate fees than to provide the best investment advice available to his client. This core distinction enables suitability advisors to sell products and services that profit their companies through commissions and hidden fees regardless of what’s best for their clients. All without running afoul of regulators.
So, for years now, the DOL has been trying to apply its fiduciary standard across the board to all advisors. Even though it first proposed the rules changes in 2010, the furor from the financial industry and both houses of Congress was so great that it pulled its proposal. But it ultimately released the final version of the rule this April, which is slated to be implemented April 10, 2017.
Already, there has been pushback in Congress, again. But this time it looks likely that the rule will remain. Many aspects of the industry will have to be examined, and it will be interesting to see how large broker-dealers react – but for clients who’s advisors already meet the fiduciary standard, the only question that remains may be how come this took so long anyway?
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