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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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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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The Convergence Continues: SEC Staff Bulletin on Standards of Conduct for B-Ds and RIAs

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.

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Recent State Fiduciary and Best Interest Developments: Pennsylvania’s New Law; Nevada May be Next

Pennsylvania has adopted legislation implementing the model regulation concerning suitability in annuity transactions adopted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). This brings to 19 the total number of states adopting the NAIC suitability model. Nevada may be the next state to watch. Nevada’s Securities Administrator has indicated that she is resuming work on the state’s fiduciary rule for investment advisers and broker-dealers and expects to release the rule by November. Stay tuned.

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PTE 2020-02 Compliance: Avoiding Five Common Mistakes

It may be a New Year, but 2022 is going to seem very familiar to Broker-Dealers (BD) and their Registered Representatives who advise retirement plans and IRAs: they are going to be spending a lot of time working to comply with new exemptions and new ERISA rules coming from the Department of Labor (DOL). As some of these deadlines are right around the corner, in this post we’re going to review the five most common pitfalls and problems we’ve seen clients face, and how to better address them in disclosures and policies and procedures.

So what’s ahead this year regarding fiduciary advice and exemptions? First, DOL is working on a new proposed definition of ERISA fiduciary investment advice to replace the 1975 regulation, and could publish the new proposal for comments this spring. This proposal may also include changes to DOL’s new Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (the PTE). If DOL succeeds in rewriting these rules, they likely will go into effect in 2023. That means the current rule and the current version of the PTE will likely remain in effect for the next 12-18 months.

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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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Reg BI Is Here. What’s the SEC Doing Now?

Reg BI has passed its compliance date of June 30, 2020. The SEC and FINRA have commenced examinations to test brokerage firms’ good faith compliance with Reg BI and Form CRS disclosure satisfaction. Our article “Have No Fear, Reg BI Is Finally Here” provides a brief overview of Reg BI and deciphers its implications for brokers and broker-dealers. It also provides an overview of a recent Risk Alert drafted by the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), and examines the SEC’s and FINRA’s review of Reg BI compliance.

Read the article.

Comparing the Standard of Conduct: Broker-Dealers vs. Investment Advisers

The SEC’s standard of conduct for broker-dealers under Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) became effective on June 30, 2020. While registered investment advisers (RIAs) always have been subject to a best interest standard of conduct (i.e., the overarching standard that encompasses both the duty of care and the duty of loyalty), the SEC’s clarification of that standard in its Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers (the RIA Interpretation) has  been in effect since July 12, 2019. There are similarities in these two standards, but there are significant differences as well. Here is how the two standards compare:

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SEC Releases SCSD Self-Reporting Initiative Settlements

The SEC recently announced its first round of settlements with registered investment advisors (RIAs) who had self-reported pursuant to the agency’s Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative (SCSD Initiative). Additional RIA settlements pursuant to the SCSD Initiative are expected, and RIAs who did not self-report face additional scrutiny from the Division of Enforcement. Industry reaction has involved frustration, but the SEC’s focus on RIA conflicts of interest, disclosures, and more recently revenue sharing is increasing.  Jim Lundy and Mary Hansen discuss these developments in this article, SEC Releases SCSD Self-Reporting Initiative Settlements.