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The Delay of the Fiduciary Exemptions: Now Is Not the Time to Relax (Part 2 of 2)

This is Part 2 of our post on important issues for broker-dealers during the extended transition period for the fiduciary exemptions. In Part 1, we discussed the need to develop written supervisory procedures under the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE) and the importance of engaging in – and being able to demonstrate – diligent and good faith efforts to comply with the exemptions.

Two other important issues are how to demonstrate compliance with the transition exemptions and the protections that are not afforded by the non-enforcement policy.

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The Delay of the Fiduciary Exemptions: Now Is Not the Time to Relax (Part 1 of 2)

Some broker-dealers may be tempted to view the DOL’s extension of the transition period for the fiduciary exemption to July 1, 2019, and the extension of the DOL and IRS non-enforcement policies, as an opportunity to relax and take a break from compliance issues for the next 18 months. Unfortunately, that could turn out to be a risky decision.

We are concerned that firms may not be paying sufficient attention to some of the most critical transition issues, including adoption of policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Impartial Conduct Standards and taking affirmative steps to ensure diligent, good faith compliance with the rules.

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Second Circuit Makes Class Certification in Securities Cases Easier

On November 6, 2017, the Second Circuit clarified that plaintiffs do not need to provide an “event study” to demonstrate market efficiency at the class certification stage in putative class actions. Rather, courts will certify a putative class if plaintiffs can demonstrate sufficient indirect evidence of market efficiency. Waggoner v. Barclays PLC, No. 16-1912-cv (2d. Cir. Nov 6, 2017).

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Householding Accounts – Avoiding a Prohibited Transaction

Householding of brokerage accounts is a common practice. Clients like it because they can get reduced fees by aggregating all of their accounts. Broker-dealers like it because they get more assets to manage. But when retirement accounts are involved, broker-dealers need to be mindful of special rules that can adversely affect their clients…because unhappy clients don’t tend to remain clients for long.

The problem occurs under the prohibited transaction rules of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. They say that a fiduciary (i.e., the person in control of the account – the investor) can’t use retirement assets to obtain a personal benefit. With householding, the client gets a personal benefit when the combined value of both his or her retirement and personal accounts hits a breakpoint that reduces the fee on the personal accounts. In other words, the investor gets a personal benefit from the use of retirement assets.

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SEC Issues MiFID II No-Action Relief and Allays Various Cross-Border Concerns

The SEC recently issued three no-action letters designed to provide market participants with greater certainty regarding their U.S. regulated activities as they engage in efforts to comply with the EU’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II).

In a recent client alert, I provided a summary of all three no-action letters and explain that as a result of these no-action letters, existing soft-dollar and commission-sharing arrangements may continue, subject to certain new restrictions. Click here to read the client alert.

As background, MiFID II will require, for impacted EU parties, that research be priced separately from execution, starting on January 3, 2018. This represents a significant change from the current practice, whereby research is generally supplied as part of a bundle of services, with no explicit charge.

Absent new U.S. regulations or other relief, this change had the potential to cause a significant number of problems for U.S. advisers, funds and clients dealing with EU parties.

WSP’s Under the DOL Fiduciary Rule

Broker-dealers have written supervisory policies (WSPs) that cover almost all aspects of their business.  But more WSPs may be needed to address the DOL fiduciary rule.

While it may seem that no such requirement exists, the Department of Labor (DOL) has turned this around … if the firm intends to rely on the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE).

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The SEC’s Back In the Fiduciary Regulation “Game”

The SEC announced its plans to move “from the sideline” on fiduciary regulations on June 1, 2017.  That day, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a statement referencing U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s call for SEC participation and stated that he “look[ed] forward to robust, substantive input that will advance and inform the SEC’s assessment of possible future actions.” This represented the SEC’s first serious foray back into this area since a rule finalized in April 2005 entitled “Certain Broker-Dealers Deemed Not To Be Investment Advisers” that added Rule 202(a)(11)-1 to the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.  That rule was short-lived and was vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2007.
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Required Disclosures After the DOL Fiduciary Rule

You may have already missed a required deadline for disclosure to your retirement plan clients … or not.  In this post, we explore the requirement to update retirement plan disclosures to reflect changes in the information that was initially provided, including a change in fiduciary status under the new rules.
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