Welcome to the Broker-Dealer Regulation & Litigation Digest – a periodic compilation of the most popular blog posts from the Broker-Dealer Law Blog during the last few months. If you don’t already receive our posts, you can subscribe to the blog.
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Arizona has become the second state after Iowa to enact a best interest standard for the sale of annuities. Like the Iowa law, both of which become effective January 1, 2021, Arizona’s law is modeled after the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) model regulation. The new law requires insurance producers to “act in the best interest of the consumer under the circumstances known at the time the recommendation is made, without placing the producer’s or the insurer’s financial interest ahead of the consumer’s interest.”
The Iowa Insurance Division has adopted the insurance producer portion of the rule for its proposed best interest standard for annuity sales, effective January 1, 2020. In response to comments, the Division elected to postpone the rule’s application to securities professionals, indicating that it intends to publish new rulemaking for the securities industry later this summer.
See the updated state chart.
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.
Nevada has released a proposed regulation to regulate broker-dealers and their advisors as fiduciaries. In 2017, the state amended its securities law to provide that broker-dealers and investment advisers owe a fiduciary duty to their customers, but the change didn’t provide details on what that meant. Instead, the legislation required that a regulation be issued to explain and implement the change. Nearly a year and a half later, a proposed regulation has been released.
Last month the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) issued its “2019 Examination Priorities.” The release of OCIE’s 2019 Priorities this year was earlier than in years past. In retrospect, the date of issuance being the last day before the vast majority of the SEC staff was furloughed may just be coincidental, but the federal government shutdown allowed the industry more time to study OCIE’s 2019 Priorities for compliance planning for the upcoming year. Another impact of the shutdown and furloughs in an area directly related to OCIE’s first priority is that the SEC’s efforts and the timing of the finalization of the Reg BI proposals have very likely been slowed as well. The recent ending of the SEC furloughs and OCIE’s continuing prioritization of retail and retirement regulatory issues presents us with an opportune time to re-visit these important topics.
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.)
As discussed regularly on this blog, the financial industry has seen a stream of rules and regulations in recent years that relate to the standard of care and management of conflicts for broker-dealers, investment advisers, insurance agents and companies.
The need for experienced counsel to help navigate the evolving and overlapping federal and state “best interest” obligations has increased. It’s the reason we’re excited to announce the launch of our Best Interest Compliance Team.
This interdisciplinary group of more than 20 lawyers consists of attorneys with experience across Investment Management, ERISA, SEC & Regulatory Enforcement Defense, Litigation/FINRA Arbitration, and Insurance Regulatory and Transactional practice areas.
The Best Interest Compliance Team will help clients make decisions about questions such as:
- What does the SEC’s proposed Regulation Best Interest mean?
- How does the SEC’s RIA interpretive guidance impact the standards currently applied to RIAs?
- What is the effect of the court order vacating the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule and what already-implemented changes will continue under the SEC proposals for RIAs and broker-dealers?
- How should written supervisory procedures be revised in light of these changes and proposals?
- What measures should be taken to show good-faith compliance with the DOL’s non-enforcement policy?
- Where should broker-dealers/RIAs/insurance companies go from here?
- How should insurance agents deal with conflicting state regulatory schemes?
In a previous post, we discussed why broker-dealers and their representatives will likely still be fiduciaries to ERISA plans and IRA investors in many cases despite the DOL Fiduciary Rule’s impending death (we say “impending” because, while the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in mid-March vacates the Fiduciary Rule in its entirety, the court’s official order implementing this decision has yet to be issued). To review, this is because broker-dealers and their representatives often satisfy all the prongs of the soon-to-be reinstated 1975 fiduciary regulation’s “Five-Part Test” defining when investment recommendations rise to the level of “fiduciary” advice. Previous industry assumptions that brokers and other “sellers” of investments generally were not fiduciaries under the 1975 regulation should no longer be relied upon. In this post, we’ll examine how the Fiduciary Rule’s impending demise will affect prohibited transaction and compensation issues for broker-dealers in light of their likely continuing status as fiduciaries. Continue reading “Why Fiduciary Status Still Matters in a Post-Fiduciary Rule World: A Look at Prohibited Transactions And Compensation”
The “old” rules will again prevail—but the old rules will not be applied in the old ways, and this will have some significant impacts on broker-dealers.
As the DOL has not asked for a rehearing of the Fifth Circuit’s decision vacating the Fiduciary Rule, or yet sought to appeal the decision, it is widely anticipated that the March 15 ruling will soon take effect, restoring the DOL’s 1975 regulation defining fiduciary investment advice to plan and IRA investors (we say “widely anticipated” because, while the official mandate vacating the Fiduciary Rule is expected soon, it has been delayed while the court considers efforts from certain states and other third parties to intervene in the case). While the SEC has proposed new regulations for broker-dealers, and while we expect the DOL to propose new prohibited transaction exemptions or regulations that will coordinate with the SEC’s actions, it will be at least a year before these initiatives could begin to apply. Continue reading “Old Standard, New Day: The Death of the Fiduciary Rule Doesn’t Mean That Broker-Dealers Won’t be Fiduciaries”