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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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Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments: Idaho, North Dakota and Ohio

Idaho and North Dakota have adopted wholesale the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) model suitability standard. Ohio also finalized its proposed rule adopting the NAIC model rule. This brings to six the number of states that have adopted the NAIC model (Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio), and three others have proposed to do so (Kentucky, Maine, and Nebraska).

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Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments: Eight States Have Proposed or Finalized Best Interest Standards for Annuity Producers

In recent months, eight states — Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Ohio — have proposed or finalized 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. The rule also requires producers, prior to recommending an annuity, to disclose the scope and terms of their relationship to the consumer, how the producer is being compensated, and any material conflicts of interest. Notably, the rule does not create a fiduciary obligation or relationship with the consumer, and producers are not subject to civil liability for breaching any fiduciary standard of conduct.

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Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments

September 1 marked the deadline for enforcement of the Massachusetts regulation on the fiduciary standard for securities recommendations. The regulation went into effect in March 2020. It is widely anticipated that enforcement steps will begin in the near future and that the Massachusetts Securities Division will be aggressive in seeking compliance with the new requirement.

View a copy of the updated state chart.

Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments

The Iowa Insurance Division has proposed a “best interest” standard for the sale of annuities in that state. The press release for the proposal indicates that it “follows efforts by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to develop a model Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation” and stated that the proposal is designed to be “harmonized“ with the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest. The comment period expires on April 28, 2020, though it seems this could be extended in light of the coronavirus crisis.

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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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Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments: Updates from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Illinois and the CFP Board

The issue of “best interest” continues to be a hot topic in the states and trade groups, though one state has fallen out of the running…at least for now.

The State of Massachusetts has two pending initiatives. The first is a regulation proposed by the state Securities Division requiring investment advisers to create a table of fees for their services. The comment period on the proposal ended in May, and we await further action. In a more recent development, the Division is considering a regulation that would apply a fiduciary standard on broker-dealers, investment advisers and their representatives. The proposal was released in mid-June, and the comment period ends on July 26. Under the proposal, enforcement would be vested in the Securities Division, and it would not create a private right of action.

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Recent State Fiduciary Duty Developments

We have updated our State Fiduciary and Best Interest Developments chart to reflect regulatory changes in New Jersey. The New Jersey Bureau of Securities has proposed a rule that will establish a fiduciary standard for broker-dealers and clarify the standard applicable to investment advisors. The comment period on the proposal ends on June 14; we anticipate that the regulation will become effective later in 2019. (Details of the proposal may be found in the chart.) The proposal is part of New Jersey governor Murphy’s aim to provide strong consumer protections. That objective also led Gov. Murphy in the last few days to veto legislation that would have eliminated a fiduciary standard for insurance producers.

We are also delighted to announce the expansion of the Drinker Biddle Best Interest Compliance Team by the addition of a team of attorneys with experience in litigation involving retirement and health benefits, especially in defending class action lawsuits. The new members of the Team are: Kimberly A. Jones, James F. Jorden, Glenn Merten, Gregory Ossi, Waldemar J. Pflepsen, Jr. and Michael A. Valerio.

Please contact us if you have questions about state developments or other issues that affect your business.