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The DOL’s Fiduciary Interpretation and Exemption: Impact on Rollover Recommendations

On December 18, 2020, the Department of Labor published its expansion of the fiduciary interpretation and exemption for conflicted advice in the Federal Register. (Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02, Improving Investment Advice for Workers and Retirees.) The exemption will be effective on February 16, 2021. The interpretation is effective immediately.

Since the effective date for the exemption is after the inauguration of the Biden administration, it is almost certain that the effective date will be further delayed. During that delay, we think it is likely the exemption will be revised or possibly withdrawn. But, it is just as likely that the expanded definition of fiduciary advice for rollover recommendations will be retained and possibly expanded. That could make life more difficult for broker-dealers, investment advisers and insurance companies. While these rules will affect all of those industries, this article focuses on the impact of the likely outcomes on broker-dealers.

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The DOL’s Temporary Enforcement Policy: Potential Traps for the Unwary

The overturning of the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule by the Fifth Circuit last year had two impacts: first, the definition of “fiduciary” for investment advice to plans and IRAs reverted back to the narrower Five-Part Test issued in 1975; second, the Best Interest Contract Exemption (or “BIC Exemption”) and amendments to other exemptions also ceased to exist.

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Fiduciary Status for the Unwary

If you thought that avoiding fiduciary status would be a slam-dunk after the “new” DOL fiduciary advice rule was vacated, think again. The DOL’s old fiduciary regulation is back and it casts an unexpectedly wide net.

Let’s start with the background. The reinstated fiduciary definition says that a broker-dealer and its advisor (a “broker”) are fiduciaries to a plan if a functional five-part test is satisfied: (1) the broker provides advice about investments for a fee or other compensation, (2) on a regular basis, (3) under a mutual understanding, (4) that the advice will form a primary basis for the plan’s decisions, and (5) that the advice is individualized based upon the plan’s particular needs. For this purpose, a “plan” includes not only an ERISA plan, but also an IRA. (In the context of IRAs, being a fiduciary under the five-part test does not itself implicate a standard of care, but does apply to the applicability of certain prohibited transactions.)

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Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 of this post, we talked about the current and proposed rules applicable to rollover recommendations by broker-dealers and RIAs. Part 1 discussed the DOL and FINRA rules that apply now. In Part 2, we explained the SEC proposals. In this post, we talk about how to make a compliant rollover recommendation, regardless of which set of rules applies.

(“Rollover recommendation” refers to advice to a retirement plan participant to take a distribution of his or her account and roll it over to an IRA that is being advised by the broker-dealer or RIA.)

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Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 2)

In our first post on this topic, we discussed the existing rules that apply to rollover recommendations by broker-dealers and RIAs. This discussion included the ERISA guidance that remains after the 5th Circuit’s decision vacating the Fiduciary Rule, as well as FINRA’s Regulatory Notice 13-45. In this post, we focus on the SEC’s best interest proposals for broker-dealers and RIAs and where that may take firms in the future. In our next, and final, post in this series, we’ll talk about how to make a compliant rollover recommendation.

(As a reminder, by “rollover” recommendation, we mean a recommendation to a retirement plan participant to take a distribution of his or her account and roll it over to an IRA being advised by the broker-dealer or RIA.)
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Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 1)

With recent developments in the regulatory landscape – the demise of the DOL Fiduciary Rule, the SEC’s proposed Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) and RIA fiduciary interpretation, and the existing FINRA guidance on rollovers – it’s important for firms to understand the rules for rollover recommendations. This article discusses the rules as they apply to both broker-dealers and RIAs. While there are similarities in the application, there are also material differences.   Continue reading “Recommending Rollovers in the Evolving Regulatory Environment (Part 1)”

Fiduciary Rule Myths

MYTH:  “Advisors must recommend the best available investment.”

We recently pointed out that under the DOL fiduciary rule, it’s a myth that advisors have to recommend the lowest cost investment. They don’t.

Here’s another myth about investment recommendations that isn’t true: advisors have to recommend the best investment to their customers. Presumably, this comes up because of the Impartial Conduct Standards in the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE). One of the requirements in those Standards is that a recommendation be in the best interest of the customer. This best interest requirement may lead some to think that advisors have to meet an essentially impossible standard. As with a lowest-cost recommendation, however, a mandate to recommend the best investment is a myth…it just isn’t true. Even the DOL has said so:

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