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Reg BI: What’s Going On and What May Happen Next?

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has not publicly stated much regarding Reg BI since Spring of this year. Generally, though, the messaging from SEC leadership regarding the Division of Examinations and the Division of Enforcement continues to be aggressive. In the retail investor area, for example, in late August Chair Gensler appointed Barbara Roper, the Director of Investor Protection for the Consumer Federation of America, as a Senior Advisor to the Chair. Turning back to Reg BI specifically, what we continue to hear out of the SEC is that Chair Gensler’s regime is going to play the Reg BI “hand that it has been dealt” aggressively.

On November 4, 2021, SEC Commissioner and former Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee gave a speech at ACLI’s CLE 2021 Conference on Life Insurance Products entitled “A Call to Action: Recommendations for Complying with Reg BI.” Commissioner Herren Lee covered several Reg BI topics, including what constitutes a recommendation and mitigation. Regarding recommendations, she noted that the Commission’s supplemental materials accompanying Reg BI speak of a “call to action” that may be viewed as influencing an investor to invest in or trade a particular security being enough to constitute a recommendation. On this topic, she emphasized the importance of the account opening process. Commissioner Herren Lee also addressed mitigation, in particular to manage the risk of an associated person putting their interests ahead of their customers, perhaps due to limitations in the firm’s products menu.

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SLOW Your Roll: DOL Temporarily Halts Enforcement of Compliance with PTE and ERISA Fiduciary Obligations for Rollover Advice

Benjamin Franklin once said “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” While that is always prudent advice, the Department of Labor (DOL) believes it’s best to grant an extension to investment advisors and broker-dealers to comply with the full terms of the Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (PTE 2020-02), beyond the current December 21, 2021, deadline. A previous blog post covered the scope of the PTE and provided guidance on compliance.

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The New DOL Fiduciary “Rule” For Investment Advisers and Broker-Dealers and the December 20 Deadline: The Time to Act is Now

The DOL’s new fiduciary “rule” became effective on February 16, 2021. The rule is a combination of a new and expansive definition of fiduciary advice (and status) and an exemption from the prohibitions of ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for financial conflicts of interest arising from nondiscretionary fiduciary advice. These changes impact all investment advisers and broker-dealers who provide services to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners.

This article summarizes the new guidance, the requirements currently in effect, and the demanding additional requirements that must be satisfied beginning on December 21, 2021. And, beginning on December 21, the full terms of Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02 will apply, including the acknowledgement of fiduciary status, the conflicts and services disclosures and, for the types of rollovers discussed below, the written statement of the “specific reasons” the rollover recommendation is in the best interest of the participant or IRA owner.

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State Fiduciary and Best Interest Developments: Texas, Virginia and Montana

Texas, Virginia and Montana are the latest states to enact legislation or rules setting forth a best interest standard for annuity producers in recommending annuities to their customers.  Each state has designed its rule to follow the NAIC’s model regulation concerning suitability in annuity transactions, which requires producers to act in the consumer’s best interest without placing the producer’s financial interest ahead of the consumer’s.  Virginia’s new rule took effect May 1, 2021, while Texas’s and Montana’s rules will take effect on September 1 and October 1, 2021, respectively.

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Robinhood vs. Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Commonwealth: A Battle for the Ages over Massachusetts’ New Strict Fiduciary Duty Rule

Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Galvin, is taking on Robinhood for violating Massachusetts’ new fiduciary duty rule for broker-dealers. In December 2020, Galvin filed a 24-page regulatory complaint, seeking to ban the popular trading app for violating the State’s strict fiduciary duty rule that requires broker-dealers to act in the best interest of their clients. Galvin raised three different violations against Robinhood that allegedly fell short of the new strict fiduciary standard. This new rule, passed in February 2020, was created in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), which Massachusetts believed did not go far enough. Reg BI bars brokers from putting their own financial interest above those of their clients, but fails to define what it means to act “in the customers’ best interest” or mandate that brokers recommend a single best product. While Reg BI requires the disclosure and mitigation of conflicts of interest, Massachusetts felt this requirement was also lacking. Galvin stated that Reg BI is “basically a souped-up version of the suitability standard,” and felt a new State rule was necessary to protect the growing crowd of young investors in the State. During this past year, due to COVID-19 and other meme-based investment activities on the application, Robinhood accumulated over 3 million new users in the first four months of 2020. Galvin’s concerns revolve around the 500,000 customers in Massachusetts, with accounts totaling over $1.6 billion.

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New York Insurance Regulation 187 Found Unconstitutional: Now What? A Faegre Drinker Podcast

On April 29, 2021, the State of New York Supreme Court Appellate Division in the Third Judicial Department issued an Opinion and Order finding that the amendment to New York Insurance Regulation 187 was unconstitutionally vague. In this Faegre Drinker podcast, a cross-disciplinary team of our attorneys discusses the preliminary implications of this important decision.

Upcoming Webinar | DOL Investigations of Registered Investment Advisers Under ERISA – What Should You Know? What Can You Do?

Investigating financial service providers to 401(k), 403(b) and other retirement plans for compliance with ERISA remains an area of focus for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Join members of Faegre Drinker’s ERISA financial services team on April 27 from noon to 1:00 p.m. CT, as we explore what registered investment advisers can expect if they are selected for an investigation and best practices for getting through an investigation and negotiating a favorable resolution as quickly and painlessly as possible. While the focus will be on RIAs, this session should be informative for broker-dealers and dual registrants as well.

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Risky Business: SEC Risk Alert Highlights Broker-Dealers’ Anti-Money Laundering Miscues and Encourages Firms to Beef Up Protection

Ben Franklin once said “by failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.” Based on the SEC’s latest risk alert concerning broker-dealers’ anti-money laundering (AML) compliance (or lack thereof), some firms would be well served to heed Mr. Franklin’s advice.

The SEC specifically seeks to examine broker-dealers’ compliance with the various regulations and laws governing firms’ AML obligations. The risk alert highlights the SEC’s observations relating to firms’ deficiencies concerning (a) AML policies and procedures and internal controls; and (b) suspicious activity reporting (SAR). The SEC’s emphasis on AML should come as no surprise, as the SEC has previously included it as an exam priority. FINRA has additionally provided broker dealers with extensive AML guidance.

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