Category: Registered Investment Advisers
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 »
By now, you’ve probably read about some of the details of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary proposal. This article isn’t about the details; it’s about the essence. What’s the big picture?
First, the proposal significantly expands the definition of fiduciary advice. As a result, almost every person who makes an investment recommendation to a plan, a participant or an IRA owner will be considered a fiduciary.
For “pure” level-fee advisors (which are typically RIAs), there won’t be any change for their services to plans, participants or IRAs . . . with one exception. The exception is “capturing” rollovers.
For any advisor—broker-dealer, RIA, insurance broker—who makes a recommendation to a participant to take a distribution and roll over, and who will be paid more in the IRA than from the plan, it will be a prohibited transaction. In other words, the recommendation of a … Read More »
As baby boomers approach retirement in a defined contribution world, the regulators are focusing on distributions and rollovers to IRAs. The SEC, FINRA, DOL and GAO have all spoken on the subject. Their conclusion appears to be that plan fiduciaries, advisors and recordkeepers need to reconsider their current practices and, in some cases, change their practices.
Why? The reason is relatively straightforward. As large numbers of 401(k) and 403(b) participants approach retirement, regulators are becoming increasingly aware that they will be moving from a plan environment where they are “bubble wrapped” by plan fiduciaries . . . and have the benefit of being able to select from investments that have been vetted by the fiduciaries and that are, as a result, good quality and relatively low-cost investments. Based on current practices, most of those participants will rollover into IRAs with investments … 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 »
In Advisory Opinion 2013-03A, the Department of Labor said: “This letter also does not address any fiduciary issues that may arise from the allocation of revenue sharing among plan expenses or individual participant accounts . . .”
In effect, the DOL was saying that it has not issued any guidance—and is not prepared to issue guidance—concerning the allocation of revenue sharing. That is a reminder that there isn’t any explicit guidance on how to allocate revenue sharing. As a result, fiduciaries need to engage in a prudent process to make that decision.
In most cases, revenue sharing is used to pay the cost of recordkeeping. In effect, it is arguable that, when the recordkeeper keeps the money, it is a pro rata allocation among the participants’ accounts. That is because the most common way of allocating expenses (for example, recordkeeping or RIA … Read More »
Recent developments suggest that FINRA, the SEC and the DOL are working together…or, perhaps, have independently reached the same conclusions.
In the past few months, FINRA has discussed rollover IRAs in five publications. The most important of those being Regulatory Notice 13-45, which creates a fiduciary-like process for recommendations about distributions and IRA rollovers. (By the way, I believe FINRA’s Investor Alert on rollovers is helpful and should be given to prospective rollover customers.) Then, to put an exclamation point on that guidance, both FINRA and the SEC listed rollovers to IRAs as one of its 2014 Examination Priorities for broker-dealers.
Finally, it is commonly expected that the DOL will issue its proposed regulation on the definition later this year…and that the proposal will expand its prior guidance on “capturing” rollovers. Fiduciary status alone increases the scope of the DOL’s jurisdiction and … 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 »
Many recordkeepers and bundled providers charge plans based on the number of participant accounts. Many others do not explicitly charge on a per-participant basis, but incorporate the number of accounts (and possibly the average account balances) into their pricing. It is likely that this practice will increase in the future . . . due to the new 404a-5 participant disclosures, which must be made to every eligible employee, as well as to every participant of an account balance.
With that in mind, advisers, recordkeepers and plan sponsors should consider mandatory distributions of small account balances (that is, $5,000 or less) to manage plan costs.
If a plan has the required provisions, and if the provisions have been appropriately communicated to eligible employees and beneficiaries through summary plan descriptions, plans can make distributions of account balances of $5,000 or less. If the participants … 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 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.