Managing IRAs: Charging Different Fees for Different Investments

Key Takeaways:

Registered investment advisers, including dual registrant broker-dealers (collectively “advisers”) who provide discretionary investment management services to individual retirement accounts (IRAs), are fiduciaries under the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”). While the Code does not have a fiduciary standard of care, it does have a duty of loyalty in the sense that most conflicts of interest are prohibited.

The Code prohibits an investment adviser fiduciary to an IRA from using its authority as a fiduciary to receive additional compensation. This means that an adviser with the authority to make asset allocation decisions in an IRA cannot charge a different fee for different investment categories (e.g., equities vs. fixed income) unless a prohibited transaction exemption is available. Alternatively, there are other compensation structures that can be considered.

 

Advisers who manage IRAs may have discretionary authority to determine the asset allocation among equities and fixed income assets based on the investor’s investment objectives, financial needs and circumstances. The fee charged for this service may be a level fee based on the value of all assets – equity and fixed income; in that case, there would not be a conflict that it was a prohibited transaction. But, let’s suppose the adviser wants to charge one fee for advising on the portion of the investor’s IRA portfolio that is allocated to equities, and a lower fee for the portion allocated to fixed income investments, and the adviser has the discretion to decide how much is allocated to equities and how much is allocated to fixed income. As explained later in this article, the allocation to the higher fees (that is, to equities) is an exercise of discretion that is a conflict and a prohibited transaction because it increases the adviser’s compensation.

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FINRA Is Conducting a Targeted Exam of “Crypto Assets”

Riding the coattails of recent news, FINRA announced on November 14th that it is conducting a targeted exam of firm practices regarding retail communications concerning “Crypto Asset” products and services.

For the purposes of this exam, FINRA defines “Crypto Asset” as an “asset that is issued or transferred using distributed ledger or blockchain technology, including, but not limited to, so-called ‘virtual currencies,’ ‘coins,’ and ‘tokens.’” FINRA expressly states that a Crypto Asset “may or may not meet the definition of a ‘security’ under the federal securities laws,” although it does exclude securities registered under the Securities Act and transferred through the system of a registered clearing agency.

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Recent State Fiduciary and Best Interest Developments

To date, 27 states have adopted rules that follow the Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation issued by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). Recent additions reflected in the following State Fiduciary and Best Interest Development chart include: Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Also, the chart reflects the Robinhood Financial v. Galvin decision by a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge declaring the Massachusetts fiduciary duty rule unlawful as well as a proposed rule issued by the Nevada Commissioner of Insurance imposing new requirements for training producers in connection with the recommendation of annuities.

To view the updates, visit the Resource page.

Download the chart of all the states.

Rollover Recommendations – Do the SEC and DOL Requirements Align?

Key Takeaways

The SEC and the DOL have separately issued guidance on rollover recommendations – however, a close examination indicates that the guidance by both agencies is very similar. The SEC’s guidance for broker-dealers is in Regulation Best Interest and a recent Staff Bulletin on account recommendations. The DOL’s guidance about rollover recommendations came in the form of an expanded interpretation of fiduciary advice found in the Preamble to PTE 2020-02 and a set of Frequently Asked Questions. These pieces of guidance share the following three principles: (1) a best interest standard, (2) a process to support that best interest standard that requires consideration of relevant factors about the investor, the investor’s current retirement account and the recommended rollover account, and (3) documentation supporting the basis for the recommendation.

There are a few differences between the SEC and the DOL guidance that broker-dealers and their registered representatives should know about, including that the SEC rollover guidance is applicable to a much broader array of retirement plans and accounts, and also that the SEC guidance does not require a disclosure about the best interest reasons for the rollover recommendation as does the DOL under PTE 2020-02.

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Broker-Dealer Regulation & Litigation Digest – Summer 2022

The Broker-Dealer Regulation & Litigation Digest is a periodic compilation of the most read blog posts published on the Broker-Dealer Law Blog during the last few months. Here you can catch up on what you missed or re-read these popular posts.

Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Mitigating Conflicts of Interest
By Fred Reish and Joan M. Neri
The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees), allows broker-dealers and their registered representatives (advisors) to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to private sector tax-qualified and ERISA-governed retirement plans, participants in those plans, and IRA owners. In addition, in the preamble to the PTE, the DOL announced an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more broker-dealers and their advisors are fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors – including rollover recommendations – and therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption. One of the conditions for relief under PTE 2020-02 is mitigation of conflicts of interest. This article discusses various compensation structures, mitigation techniques and related DOL FAQs.

And Now for the SEC’s First Substantive Reg-Bi Action
By Sandra D. Grannum, Emmanuel L. Brown and Jamie L. Helman
We have made it a point previously in this blog to track developments of the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), even speculating more aggressive enforcement actions could be coming due to certain Reg BI deficiency letters sent to firms late last year. Since Reg BI went into effect in June 2020, however, many have waited with bated breath to see what enforcement of the regulation would look like in practice. While the SEC has pursued some cases regarding firms missing deadlines and omitting certain information in disclosure documents, it had taken no further action until June.

What Broker-Dealers Need to Know About Correcting PTE 2020-02 Mistakes
By Fred Reish and Joan M. Neri
The DOL expanded its interpretation of fiduciary advice in the Preamble to PTE 2020-02 and as a result, many more broker-dealers and their registered representatives (investment professionals) are fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors, including rollover recommendations. Therefore, they will need the protection provided by PTE 2020-02. The PTE contains a number of conditions and if those conditions are not met, a prohibited transaction will result.

16 “At One Blow” – The SEC Sanctions for Recordkeeping Failures

On September 27, 2022, the SEC announced that it had sanctioned 15 Broker-Dealers and one affiliated RIA for widespread recordkeeping violations of Section 17(a)(1) of the Exchange Act and Rule 17a-4(b)(4) thereunder resulting from the firms’ failure to maintain and preserve electronic communications. The SEC uncovered the misconduct after commencing a September 2021 sweep – a risk-based initiative to investigate the use of off-channel and unpreserved communications at broker-dealers. These firms agreed to the facts set forth in the SEC’s Order Imposing Remedial Sanctions and a Cease-and-Desist and agreed to pay total penalties of $1.1 BILLION and to implement improvements to their compliance policies and procedures.

The SEC Press Release advised that:

“Finance, ultimately, depends on trust. By failing to honor their recordkeeping and books-and-records obligations, the market participants we have charged today have failed to maintain that trust.”… As technology changes, it’s even more important that registrants appropriately conduct their communications about business matters within only official channels, and they must maintain and preserve those communications.”

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What Broker-Dealers Need to Know About Correcting PTE 2020-02 Mistakes

Key Takeaways

The DOL expanded its interpretation of fiduciary advice in the Preamble to PTE 2020-02 and as a result, many more broker-dealers and their registered representatives (investment professionals) are fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors, including rollover recommendations. Therefore, they will need the protection provided by PTE 2020-02. The PTE contains a number of conditions and if those conditions are not met, a prohibited transaction will result.

The good news is that the PTE provides a self-correction process. Unfortunately, some conditions of the self-correction process are difficult to interpret and additional DOL guidance is needed.

To avoid these challenges, broker-dealers should implement good processes and documentation to satisfy the PTE conditions and closely supervise their investment professionals to ensure that the processes are followed.

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And Now for the SEC’s First Substantive Reg BI Action

We have made it a point previously in this blog to track developments of the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), even speculating more aggressive enforcement actions could be coming due to certain Reg BI deficiency letters sent to firms late last year. Since Reg BI went into effect in June 2020, however, many have waited with bated breath to see what enforcement of the regulation would look like in practice. While the SEC has pursued some cases regarding firms missing deadlines and omitting certain information in disclosure documents, it had taken no further action until June. On June 15, 2022 the SEC finally took its first substantive Reg BI action by filing a civil regulatory complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Western International Securities, Inc. and five of its brokers for allegedly selling a risky debt security, known as corporate L Bonds, to its retail customers. The Complaint invokes Section 15l-1(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 — Regulation Best Interest — and seeks to enjoin the Defendants from the acts, practices and courses of business described in the Complaint.

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Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Mitigating Conflicts of Interest

Key Takeaways

  • PTE 2020-02 requires that financial institutions—such as broker-dealers—mitigate conflicts of interest “to the extent that a reasonable person reviewing the policies and procedures and incentives as a whole would conclude that they do not create an incentive for the firm or the investment professional to place their interests ahead of the interest of the retirement investor.
  • The DOL has issued FAQs that provide examples of mitigation techniques to reduce compliance risks in connection with compensation structures.
  • While there are a variety of mitigation techniques that can be used for different types of conflicts, the following two elements need to be part of mitigating every type of conflict: (1) an appropriate best interest process for developing the recommendation; and (2) supervision of the proper implementation of that process.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees), allows broker-dealers and their registered representatives (advisors) to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to private sector tax-qualified and ERISA-governed retirement plans, participants in those plans, and IRA owners. (The PTE refers to those 3 classes of investors as “retirement investors.”) In addition, in the preamble to the PTE, the DOL announced an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more broker-dealers and their advisors are fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors – including rollover recommendations – and therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

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Having a Senior Moment

In connection with the 2022 SIFMA C&L Seminar, the Best Interest Compliance Team submitted a white paper entitled “Having a Senior Moment: Recent Legislation and Rules to Protect Seniors from Financial Exploitation,” that was made available to conference attendees on a mobile app.

As its title suggests, our paper covers recent laws and regulations passed to protect senior investors. We specifically cover: (1) the Senior Safe Act, a law passed to provide immunity to financial institutions/advisors who disclose financial exploitations; (2) FINRA Rule 2165, which allows FINRA members to place temporary holds on the disbursement of funds or securities; (3) an SEC No Action Letter relating to FINRA Rule 2165; (4) FINRA Rule 4512, which requires member firms to make reasonable efforts to obtain a trusted contact person on customers’ accounts; (5) FINRA Rule 3241 which attempts to minimize conflicts where a registered person is named as a beneficiary or executor to their customer’s estate; and (6) “Report and Hold Statutes” that have been passed in a number of states and that require/encourage broker-dealers to report any suspicions of financial abuse. As part of our white paper, we also prepared a 50-state survey of the states that have passed Report and Hold Statutes.

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