Last month the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) issued its “2019 Examination Priorities.” The release of OCIE’s 2019 Priorities this year was earlier than in years past. In retrospect, the date of issuance being the last day before the vast majority of the SEC staff was furloughed may just be coincidental, but the federal government shutdown allowed the industry more time to study OCIE’s 2019 Priorities for compliance planning for the upcoming year. Another impact of the shutdown and furloughs in an area directly related to OCIE’s first priority is that the SEC’s efforts and the timing of the finalization of the Reg BI proposals have very likely been slowed as well. The recent ending of the SEC furloughs and OCIE’s continuing prioritization of retail and retirement regulatory issues presents us with an opportune time to re-visit these important topics.
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As discussed regularly on this blog, the financial industry has seen a stream of rules and regulations in recent years that relate to the standard of care and management of conflicts for broker-dealers, investment advisers, insurance agents and companies.
The need for experienced counsel to help navigate the evolving and overlapping federal and state “best interest” obligations has increased. It’s the reason we’re excited to announce the launch of our Best Interest Compliance Team.
This interdisciplinary group of more than 20 lawyers consists of attorneys with experience across Investment Management, ERISA, SEC & Regulatory Enforcement Defense, Litigation/FINRA Arbitration, and Insurance Regulatory and Transactional practice areas.
The Best Interest Compliance Team will help clients make decisions about questions such as:
- What does the SEC’s proposed Regulation Best Interest mean?
- How does the SEC’s RIA interpretive guidance impact the standards currently applied to RIAs?
- What is the effect of the court order vacating the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule and what already-implemented changes will continue under the SEC proposals for RIAs and broker-dealers?
- How should written supervisory procedures be revised in light of these changes and proposals?
- What measures should be taken to show good-faith compliance with the DOL’s non-enforcement policy?
- Where should broker-dealers/RIAs/insurance companies go from here?
- How should insurance agents deal with conflicting state regulatory schemes?
MYTH: “Advisors must recommend the best available investment.”
We recently pointed out that under the DOL fiduciary rule, it’s a myth that advisors have to recommend the lowest cost investment. They don’t.
Here’s another myth about investment recommendations that isn’t true: advisors have to recommend the best investment to their customers. Presumably, this comes up because of the Impartial Conduct Standards in the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE). One of the requirements in those Standards is that a recommendation be in the best interest of the customer. This best interest requirement may lead some to think that advisors have to meet an essentially impossible standard. As with a lowest-cost recommendation, however, a mandate to recommend the best investment is a myth…it just isn’t true. Even the DOL has said so:
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.
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.
When a financial advisor moves from one broker-dealer to another, both the firm and the advisor want his or her clients to come along. When those clients have IRAs, any recommendations to the IRA investors are now subject to greater scrutiny. This is because, under the DOL’s new fiduciary advice rule, a recommendation to move an IRA from another firm is a fiduciary recommendation. And while this would ordinarily be a prohibited transaction under the Internal Revenue Code – because the broker-dealer and advisor will make money if the account is transferred but won’t if it isn’t – there is an exemption that permits the recommendation and any resulting compensation, if a number of conditions are satisfied.