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.
Continue reading “Managing IRAs: Charging Different Fees for Different Investments”
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.
Continue reading “Rollover Recommendations – Do the SEC and DOL Requirements Align?”
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.”
Continue reading “16 “At One Blow” – The SEC Sanctions for Recordkeeping Failures”
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.
Continue reading “What Broker-Dealers Need to Know About Correcting PTE 2020-02 Mistakes”
- 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.
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.
Continue reading “Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Mitigating Conflicts of Interest”
On March 30, 2022, the SEC issued “Staff Bulletin: Standards of Conduct for Broker-Dealers and Investment Advisers Account Recommendations for Retail Investors” (SEC Retail Standards Bulletin). This guidance builds on prior SEC guidance regarding Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) and the SEC’s “Main Street” initiatives impacting investment advisory firms since the SEC’s self-reporting “Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative” announced just over four years ago. In the intervening years, the SEC issued a FAQ “Regarding Disclosure of Certain Financial Conflicts of Interest Related to Investment Adviser Compensation” and issued the Reg BI rulemaking package that included the “Commission Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers.” This blog has covered all of these developments and, regarding the once separate standards of conduct for brokerage and investment advisory firms, described the developing convergence of these standards as they apply to retail investors.
Continue reading “The Convergence Continues: SEC Staff Bulletin on Standards of Conduct for B-Ds and RIAs”
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.
Continue reading “The New DOL Fiduciary “Rule” For Investment Advisers and Broker-Dealers and the December 20 Deadline: The Time to Act is Now”
The Department of Labor (DOL) confirmed on February 12 that the Trump-era Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (PTE) would go into effect as scheduled on February 16, 2021. The PTE will likely affect the business of broker-dealers that regularly make investment recommendations to IRA owners, as well as retirement plans and their participants (including rollover recommendations). This is due in part to the requirements of the PTE itself, but also because the rulemaking includes new interpretations that will expand the circumstances under which broker-dealers and their associated persons will be deemed to be advice fiduciaries. (The exemption refers to broker-dealers as “financial institutions” and their associated persons as “investment professionals” and this article uses those terms.)
As a result of these changes, broker-dealers need to re-evaluate whether and when they (and their investment professionals) may be fiduciaries, and where they are fiduciaries, they need to develop compliant practices, policies and procedures.
Continue reading “Broker-Dealer Services to Plans and IRAs: Impact of the DOL Fiduciary Advice Exemption”
On January 8, 2021, without admitting or denying the findings, VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc., (VALIC) entered into a settlement with FINRA Enforcement, through an Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) where the factual allegation was that between January 1, 2017, and October 31, 2018, the broker-dealer failed to “establish a reasonably designed system and written supervisory procedures for the surveillance of rates of [Variable Annuities] exchanges and for corrective action in the case of inappropriate exchanges, in violation of FINRA Rules 2330(d), 3110, and 2010.” VALIC agreed to a censure and a $350,000 fine. See VALIC Financial Advisors, Inc. AWC No. 2018060548501.
Continue reading “FINRA’s Focus on Variable Annuity Switches Continues”
Late last year, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) introduced the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020 (SECURE 2.0), a bipartisan legislative proposal that includes changes designed to encourage plan adoption, promote retirement savings, and fix certain plan administration problems.
As retirement income issues gain an expanding focus, we think it is important for broker-dealers, RIAs and their advisors to understand changes that could impact their clients. In this post, we comment on a number of the key provisions.
Continue reading “SECURE Act 2.0: Key Provisions Affecting Retirement Plans”