Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments: Arizona Enacts Best Interest Standard

Arizona has become the second state after Iowa to enact a best interest standard for the sale of annuities. Like the Iowa law, both of which become effective January 1, 2021, Arizona’s law is modeled after the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) model regulation. The new law requires insurance producers to “act in the best interest of the consumer under the circumstances known at the time the recommendation is made, without placing the producer’s or the insurer’s financial interest ahead of the consumer’s interest.”

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The Second Circuit Upholds Reg BI

On June 26, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its ruling on the challenge to the legality of the Regulation Best Interest final rule (Reg BI), promulgated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As reported on June 2, 2020, the Second Circuit entertained oral argument. It issued its ruling late in the day on June 26, just prior to Reg BI’s June 30, 2020, implementation date two business days later.

The Second Circuit’s ruling had three holdings: (1) the individual investment adviser petitioner had standing to bring the petition to review, but the state petitioners did not; (2) section 913(f) of the Dodd-Frank Act authorized the SEC to promulgate Reg BI; and (3) Reg BI is not arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). We focus the analysis herein on the latter two holdings.

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The Second Circuit Hears the Reg BI Challenge Oral Argument

A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit entertained arguments on June 2, 2020, in a lawsuit seeking to vacate and set aside the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI). By way of background and in brief summary, Reg BI requires that broker-dealers make recommendations that are in the “best interest” of the retail customer, disclose conflicts of interest, and specify the services customers are receiving and the associated costs. As previously covered in this blog, the plaintiffs initially challenged Reg BI in September 2019. Despite this pending legal challenge and brokerage firms’ strained resources due to the pandemic and quarantining, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said on April 2, 2020, in a public statement that the June 30, 2020, compliance deadline for Reg BI would remain.

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States Enact Good Samaritan Broker Laws

On January 22, 2016, the members of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) released the Senior Model Act.  It was developed and approved to serve as a model statute for states to adopt to target financial exploitation of seniors and to shield from liability brokers and brokerage firms who acted to assist those seniors. The Senior Model Act comports with a multitude of legislation and regulatory protection for seniors. Broadly stated, the Senior Model Act proposes language for legislation that would require “qualified individuals” such as broker-dealers and investment advisers, and those who work in a supervisory or legal capacity for them, to report any suspicions of financial elder abuse. The Senior Model Act proposes the protection of “eligible adults,” defined as those over the age of 65.

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Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments

The Iowa Insurance Division has adopted the insurance producer portion of the rule for its proposed best interest standard for annuity sales, effective January 1, 2020. In response to comments, the Division elected to postpone the rule’s application to securities professionals, indicating that it intends to publish new rulemaking for the securities industry later this summer.

See the updated state chart.

Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments

The Iowa Insurance Division has proposed a “best interest” standard for the sale of annuities in that state. The press release for the proposal indicates that it “follows efforts by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to develop a model Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation” and stated that the proposal is designed to be “harmonized“ with the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest. The comment period expires on April 28, 2020, though it seems this could be extended in light of the coronavirus crisis.

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SEC Examination Guidelines and FAQs on Form CRS

The SEC has issued guidance addressing the Form CRS. The first is a Risk Alert from the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) indicating that OCIE will be looking for good faith compliance when it conducts examinations after the June 30, 2020 Form CRS compliance date. The second includes additional FAQs providing clarification on delivery and filing requirements along with several other topical areas. We discuss the examination guidance and the FAQs in more detail in an alert on our website for those looking for more in-depth analysis. Also, note that the CRS Risk Alert was issued concurrently with a similar Alert on Reg BI examinations in general, which is the subject of a separate post on this site.

As SEC Chairman Clayton previously indicated, the compliance date of Form CRS will not be extended, but the “initial” examinations will focus on whether firms made “a good faith effort to implement Form CRS.” While emphasizing that the Risk Alert is not intended to serve as an explanation of Form CRS requirements, OCIE explains that its initial examinations may include assessment of compliance with the following areas:

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The Word Is Out on SEC Examinations for Reg BI Compliance – the OCIE Risk Alert

On April 7, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) issued a Risk Alert providing guidance for the SEC’s post–June 30, 2020, examinations of firms’ compliance with Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI). This guidance is covered more fully in our Client Alert of April 13, 2020.

In an effort to present transparency in its prospective examination for Reg BI compliance, OCIE’s Risk Alert includes a three-page Appendix that provides an example of an OCIE Reg BI examination document and information request list. OCIE encourages firms to use the documents listed in the Appendix to assess their implementation plans for Reg BI. Firms should study this exemplar request list closely.

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