Author: Bruce Ashton

Bruce Ashton

Bruce L. Ashton has more than 35 years of experience handling employee benefits matters. His practice concentrates on representing plan service providers (including RIAs, independent record-keepers, third-party administrators, broker-dealers and insurance companies) in fulfilling their obligations under ERISA. His experience includes representing public and private sector plans and their sponsors, negotiating the resolution of plan qualification issues under IRS remedial correction programs, advising and defending fiduciaries on their obligations and liabilities, and structuring qualified plans, non-qualified deferred compensation arrangements.

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Posts by Bruce Ashton:


SEC Joint Statement on Form CRS and New FAQs & Upcoming Roundtable

On October 8, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a joint statement by SEC Chairman Jay Clayton and the SEC’s directors of the Division of Investment Management and the Division of Trading and Markets “Regarding New FAQs for Form CRS” (CRS FAQ Joint Statement). The CRS FAQ Joint Statement offers guidance to both broker-dealers and registered investment advisers (collectively, firms). The focus of this guidance addressed Form CRS disclosures regarding firm or financial professional disciplinary histories. Along with the CRS FAQ Joint Statement, the SEC modified and released its “Frequently Asked Questions on Form CRS” (Form CRS FAQs).

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Comparing the DOL Proposal to the Broker-Dealer and RIA Standards of Conduct

Our recent blog post compared the SEC’s standard of conduct for broker-dealers under Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) with the standard of conduct for registered investment advisers (RIAs) under the SEC’s Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers (the RIA Interpretation). Here, we add a comparison of the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) proposed prohibited transaction exemption, which includes in the preamble an expanded interpretation of who qualifies as an investment advice fiduciary under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (the DOL Proposal).

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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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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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State Fiduciary Duty Developments: Massachusetts Moves Ahead with Fiduciary Standard

The Massachusetts Securities Division has issued an amended version of its proposed fiduciary standard for financial advisors. The original proposal was released in mid-June.

The amendment adds definition to the standard by including a detailed list of requirements as described in Faegre Drinker’s updated state law chart. The absence of this type of description has been a major criticism of other attempts at adopting a fiduciary standard for financial advisors.

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Standard of Care for Rollover Advice

The standard of care for rollover recommendations has been top of mind for broker-dealers beginning with the issuance of the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) now vacated fiduciary rule, and more recently with the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), raising the question of  the extent to which the SEC standard of care for rollover recommendations differs from the DOL’s.

The standards appear to be essentially the same – a requirement to act in the customer’s best interest (keeping in mind that Reg BI will not be applicable until June 30, 2020, while the DOL rules are applicable now). However, there are two major differences:

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