Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #12

Lessons Learned from Litigation (#5)—The Johns Hopkins Case

This is the twelfth in a series of articles about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors. To be clear, “best practices” are not the same as legal requirements. Instead, they are about better ways to manage retirement plans. In many cases, though, “best practices” also are good risk management tools because they should exceed legal standards, address areas of concern, or anticipate future developments as retirement plans and expectations evolve.

Plan sponsors should be aware of the latest trends in fiduciary litigation to help manage the risk of being sued and, if sued, the risk of being liable. In my past four plan sponsor posts, Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #8, #9, #10 and #11, I discussed the lessons learned from the conditions in the settlement agreements for the Anthem, Vanderbilt, BB&T and ABB cases. This article—about the Johns Hopkins settlement agreement—is another example of the importance of using appropriate share classes and the monitoring of compensation of service providers . . . and more.

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #12

Regulation Best Interest: An Overview of the Changes.

The SEC has issued its final Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), Form CRS Regulation, RIA Interpretation and Solely Incidental Interpretation. I am discussing the SEC’s guidance in a series of articles entitled “Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors.”


The SEC’s Reg BI establishes a best interest standard of care for investment recommendations to retail customers by broker-dealers and their registered representatives. In addition, Reg BI requires new disclosures and mitigation of advisor’s financial conflicts of interest. The SEC also issued an Interpretation of the Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers, which clarified the SEC’s position on a number of issues related to the fiduciary standard and conflicts of interest for RIAs. There were two other pieces of guidance: the Form CRS Regulation (which requires a simplified front-end disclosure by broker-dealers and investment advisers); and the Solely Incidental Interpretation for limited discretion and monitoring of accounts by broker-dealers.

A starting point for understanding the requirements of Reg BI (which are applicable on June 30, 2020) is to compare it to existing standards, e.g., the suitability rule. In its release for the final regulation, the SEC did just that. Here it is in the SEC’s words (with my comments added):

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #11

Regulation Best Interest: An Overview of the Requirements

The SEC has issued its final Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), Form CRS Regulation, RIA Interpretation and Solely Incidental Interpretation. I am discussing the SEC’s guidance in a series of articles entitled “Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors.”

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The SEC’s Reg BI establishes a best interest standard of care for investment recommendations to retail customers by broker-dealers and their registered representatives. In addition, Reg BI requires new disclosures and mitigation of advisor’s financial conflicts of interest. The SEC also issued an Interpretation of the Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers, which clarified the SEC’s position on a number of issues related to the fiduciary standard and conflicts of interest for RIAs. There were two other pieces of guidance: the Form CRS Regulation (which requires a simplified front-end disclosure by broker-dealers and investment advisers); and the Solely Incidental Interpretation for limited discretion and monitoring of accounts by broker-dealers.

My last two posts, Best Interest for Advisors #9 and #10, focused on the requirement in Reg BI that a recommendation to a retail customer must include consideration of the cost of the investment or strategy. I started with that issue because I believe that it will be highly impactful over the long run. However, this article starts at the beginning . . . an overview of the changes made by Reg BI. In the release to the final regulation, the SEC explained Reg BI’s requirements (applicable on June 30, 2020):

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3 lessons for advisers from 401(k) and 403(b) class action settlements

Fred Reish writes a quarterly column for Investment News. This quarter’s article points out that retirement plan committees rely on their advisers to keep them informed of new developments related to 401(k) and 403(b) plans, including advice about risk management. To help advisers fulfill those expectations, this article discusses the recent settlements in the Anthem 401(k) and Vanderbilt 403(b) cases.

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #10

Regulation Best Interest: The Focus on Costs (Part 2)

The SEC has issued its final Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), Form CRS Regulation, RIA Interpretation and Solely Incidental Interpretation. I am discussing the SEC’s guidance in a series of articles entitled “Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors.”

______________________________________________________________________

The SEC’s Reg BI establishes a best interest standard of care for investment recommendations to retail customers by broker-dealers and their registered representatives. In addition, Reg BI requires new disclosures and mitigation of advisor’s financial conflicts of interest. The SEC also issued an Interpretation of the Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers, which clarified the SEC’s position on a number of issues related to the fiduciary standard and conflicts of interest for RIAs. There were two other pieces of guidance: the Form CRS Regulation (which requires a simplified front-end disclosure by broker-dealers and investment advisers); and the Solely Incidental Interpretation for limited discretion and monitoring of accounts by broker-dealers.

In my last article in this series, I pointed out that the SEC has explicitly included the consideration of costs in the text of Reg BI and stated that broker-dealers must consider costs for every recommendation (beginning on Reg BI’s compliance date of June 30, 2020). That doesn’t mean that the lowest-cost investment or investment strategy must be recommended (e.g., where the customer’s investment profile indicates that a more expensive alternative would be better serve the investor), but it does mean that costs must be part of that analysis, and that higher-cost alternatives must be justified by the retail customer’s investment profile. Picking up with where the last article left off, here is the SEC’s thinking:

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #11

Lessons Learned from Litigation (#4)—The ABB Case

This is the eleventh in a series of articles about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors. To be clear, “best practices” are not the same as legal requirements. Instead, they are about better ways to manage retirement plans. In many cases, though, “best practices” also are good risk management tools because they should exceed legal standards, address areas of concern, or anticipate future developments as retirement plans and expectations evolve.

Plan sponsors should be aware of the latest trends in fiduciary litigation to help manage the risk of being sued and, if sued, the risk of being liable. In my past three plan sponsor posts, Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #8, #9, and #10, I discussed the lessons learned from the conditions in the settlement agreements for the Anthem, Vanderbilt and BB&T cases. This article—about the ABB settlement agreement—is another example of the importance of using appropriate share classes and the  monitoring of compensation of service providers . . . and more.

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #9

Regulation Best Interest: The Focus on Costs (Part 1)

The SEC has issued its final Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), Form CRS Regulation, RIA Interpretation and Solely Incidental Interpretation. I am discussing the SEC’s guidance in a series of articles entitled “Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors.”


The SEC’s Reg BI establishes a best interest standard of care for investment recommendations to retail customers by broker-dealers and their registered representatives. Reg BI also requires new disclosures and mitigation of advisor’s financial conflicts of interest. The SEC also issued an Interpretation of the Standard of Conduct for investment advisers, which clarified the SEC’s position on a number of issues related to the fiduciary standard and conflicts of interest. In addition, there were two other pieces of guidance: the Form CRS Regulation (which requires a simplified front-end disclosure by broker-dealers and investment advisers); and the Solely Incidental Interpretation for limited discretion and monitoring of accounts by broker-dealers.

The SEC’s release for the proposed Reg BI described “cost” as being a more important consideration than it is under the suitability standard. However, in the final Reg BI, the significance of “cost” was elevated even further. That was accomplished by moving “cost” from the release discussion to the actual regulation. In relevant part, the Reg BI Care Obligation now reads:

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Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #10

Lessons Learned from Litigation (#3)—The BB&T Case

This is the tenth in a series of articles about Best Practices for Plan Sponsors. To be clear, “best practices” are not the same as legal requirements. Instead, they are about better ways to manage retirement plans. In many cases, though, “best practices” also are good risk management tools because they should exceed legal standards, address areas of concern, or anticipate future developments as retirement plans and expectations evolve.

Plan sponsors should be aware of the latest trends in fiduciary litigation to help manage the risk of being sued and, if sued, the risk of being liable. In my past two plan sponsor posts, Best Practices for Plan Sponsors #8 and #9, I discussed the lessons learned from the conditions in the settlement agreements for the Anthem and Vanderbilt cases. This article—about the BB&T settlement agreement—is another example of the importance of using appropriate share classes and a good process for selecting investments and monitoring service providers.

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The SECURE Act and Guaranteed Retirement Income in Plans

By now you have probably seen a number of articles about the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019) and its safe harbor for guaranteed retirement income in 401(k) plans. Some have favored the safe harbor, while others have criticized it. In either case, the authors appear to contemplate that participants will be buying individual annuities at retail prices.

In my opinion, those articles—on both sides of the fight—are at best misleading and in some cases just plain wrong. I am writing this article to give you my views.

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If The SEC Is Telling You To Ask Your Financial Advisor These Questions, You Probably Should

The SEC has issued a four-part rules package for broker-dealers and investment advisers that includes the new Form CRS Regulation. The regulation requires broker-dealers and investment advisers to give short disclosure documents to all customers and potential customers beginning June 30, 2020.

The rule also requires that the new disclosure document provide investors with a series of questions that they should ask their adviser. Don’t you think you should know what those questions are . . . before you’re asked? The questions and my comments are in an article I wrote for my Forbes blog.

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