2016 promises to be the year of the fiduciary . . . the fiduciary rule, that is.
It now seems certain that we will have a final fiduciary rule in effect by the end of 2016.
What will that mean? It will re-write the rules for investment advice and sales to retirement plans and IRAs. The impact will vary, depending upon whether the person making the recommendation is an RIA, a broker-dealer, or an insurance agent or broker.
For example, for RIAs, the greatest impact will be on investment advisers who recommend retirement plan distributions and rollovers and those who receive additional fees (for example, 12b-1 fees) from their IRA investors. On the other hand, advisers of broker-dealers will need to make significant changes in disclosures and compensation practices across the board (that is, for recommendations to plans and IRAs, and recommendations about … Read More »
The increasing regulation of 401(k) distributions and rollovers to IRAs continues to be a subject of great interest to my clients . . . and a considerable amount of work for me. One of the benefits of concentrated work in that area has been an enhanced appreciation of the difficulty of broker-dealers, provider call centers, and RIAs in providing compliant services . . . from a practical perspective.
For example, viewed academically, it is possible to put together a compliant rollover program under FINRA’s guidance in Regulatory Notice 13-45. At the least, that would involve written materials and discussions about the seven factors listed in the guidance. The written materials would be provided to participants to both educate them and to support compliance and supervision. The conversations would be structured to provide a reasonable basis for developing a suitable recommendation, based … Read More »
The 408(b)(2) regulation requires that its service, status and compensation disclosures be made to “responsible plan fiduciaries” or “RPFs.” In the rush to make the 408(b)(2) disclosures, most recordkeepers, broker-dealers and RIAs sent their disclosure documents to their primary contact at the plan sponsor. In at least some of those cases, the primary contact was not the RPF. As a result, we added language to our clients’ disclosures to the effect that, if the recipient was not the RPF, the written disclosure should immediately be forwarded to the RPF.
The regulation defines RPF as “a fiduciary with authority to cause the covered plan to enter into, or extend or renew, the contract or arrangement.” In other words, it is the person or committee who has the power to hire and fire the particular service provider, e.g., the broker-dealer, recordkeeper or RIA.
Because … Read More »
The DOL recently settled a case for $1,265,608.70 with a firm that provided investment advice to retirement plans. Based on the DOL’s press release, the firm served as a fiduciary investment adviser to ERISA plans and recommended investments in mutual funds. In addition to the firm’s advisory fee, it also received 12b-1 fees.
Based on the press release, it appears that the DOL asserted two claims. The first is that the receipt of additional fees (which could include both 12b-1 fees and some forms of revenue sharing) is a violation of the prohibited transaction rules in section 406(b) of ERISA.
The second theory appears to be that, where a fiduciary adviser receives undisclosed compensation, the adviser has, in effect, set its own compensation (to the extent of the undisclosed payments). In the past, the DOL has successfully taken the position that, by … Read More »
The DOL’s 404a-5 regulation places a fiduciary obligation on plan sponsors—in their roles as ERISA plan administrators—to make certain disclosures to participants. In the rush to comply with the 408(b)(2) disclosures, some broker-dealers may have overlooked the participant disclosure guidance about brokerage accounts in Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2012-02.
While the legal obligation is imposed on plan sponsors, the obligation will, as a practical matter, be on broker-dealers, since plan sponsors do not have the information or capability of making these disclosures. As a result, they will turn to their broker-dealers to satisfy the compliance requirements.
The failure of a covered service provider (for example, a broker-dealer, RIA or recordkeeper) to provide adequate 408(b)(2) disclosures results in a prohibited transaction . . . for both service providers and plan sponsors. While the regulation has an exemption for plan sponsors (if they follow certain steps), there is no similar exemption for covered service providers.
In DOL Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2012-02R, the Department of Labor explained the disclosures for individual brokerage accounts in participant-directed plans. I am concerned that many broker-dealers have not focused on these new “requirements.” That is true for several reasons, including:
So much money and energy have been devoted to complying with the plan disclosure requirements, that is, the 408(b)(2) disclosures.
The 404a-5, or participant, disclosure requirements are imposed on plan sponsors, in their fiduciary capacity. Stating this slightly differently, the participant disclosures for brokerage accounts are not imposed on broker-dealers, but instead are placed on the shoulders of the plan sponsors. Since it is not a legal responsibility for broker-dealers, it has not received the same attention as the 408(b)(2) disclosures. However, as a practical matter, plan sponsors will turn to the broker-dealers and insist that they satisfy those disclosure requirements. That seems … Read More »
In working with broker-dealers and RIAs, I have come to realize that there is some misunderstanding about the application of ERISA’s provisions to investments in hedge funds.
If ERISA plan fiduciaries are given “individualized” advice based on the “particular needs” of the plan (such as asset allocation or non-correlated investments), then the recommendation of an investment in a hedge fund is like any other recommended investment. That is, it can be a fiduciary act by the broker-dealer or the RIA firm.
One of our concerns about disclosures by broker-dealers (and affiliated RIAs) is that they may not fully appreciate the concept of related parties under the 408(b)(2) regulation.
When a broker-dealer is a covered service provider and contracts with others to provide some of the services, the broker-dealer and those other parties are “related” for purposes of the regulation and its disclosure requirements. In those cases, the compensation of the related party (as opposed to the broker-dealer) must be disclosed if it is (1) transactional or (2) charged against the plan’s investments. In some cases, there may be other required disclosures.
As we get closer to the July 1, 2012 deadline for 408(b)(2) disclosures, more issues emerge concerning the adequacy of disclosures. Of particular concern is the requirement that the disclosures include both monetary and non-monetary compensation. For example, where a mutual fund family or insurance company subsidizes broker-dealer or RIA conferences for plan sponsors or advisers, there is at least an issue of whether those subsidies should be disclosed to the plan sponsor clients of those RIAs or broker-dealers. Another example is where a mutual fund complex or insurance company pays for advisers to attend conferences.