Category Archives: DOL

The New Fiduciary Rule (7): Non-Discretionary Investment Advice

The U.S. Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment advice to plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs (including transfers).

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Labor’s proposed regulation defining fiduciary investment and insurance advice to private sector retirement plans, participants in those plans, and IRA owners (collectively, “retirement investors”) includes three distinct definitions.
  • Those definitions are discretionary investment management, non-discretionary investment advice, and acknowledgement of fiduciary status.
  • The most controversial of these proposals is the new definition of non-discretionary investment advice. If an investment adviser, broker-dealer, or insurance agent (“investment professional”) satisfies that definition, the investment professional will be a fiduciary under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code.

This post discusses the “non-discretionary” definition of fiduciary investment advice in the DOL’s proposed fiduciary regulation. The other two definitions of fiduciary status are covered by my posts The New Fiduciary Rule (5) and The New Fiduciary Rule (6).

Continue reading The New Fiduciary Rule (7): Non-Discretionary Investment Advice

Share

The New Fiduciary Rule (6): The Fiduciary Definition of Fiduciary

The US Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment advice to plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs (including transfers of IRAs).

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Labor’s proposed regulation defining fiduciary investment and insurance/annuity advice to private sector retirement plans, participants in those plans, and IRA owners (collectively, “retirement investors”) includes three distinct definitions.
  • Those definitions are: discretionary investment management, non-discretionary investment advice, and acknowledgement of fiduciary status. In each of those cases, the person and the firm will be fiduciaries under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for purposes of their investment recommendations and services to retirement investors.
  • A new definition in the proposal, and one that is not likely to be controversial, is the third one….a person will be a fiduciary for investment recommendations if that person says that the person and/or the firm are acting as fiduciaries for the recommendation.

This post discusses the “fiduciary acknowledgement” definition of fiduciary investment advice in the DOL’s proposed fiduciary regulation. More specifically, the proposed regulation says that a person will be an ERISA and Code fiduciary if “The person making the recommendation represents or acknowledges that they are acting as a fiduciary when making investment recommendations.” (There will be future articles discussing “investment recommendations”, but for the moment, consider it to be a recommendation for a retirement investor to invest in securities, insurance or other property.)

Continue reading The New Fiduciary Rule (6): The Fiduciary Definition of Fiduciary

Share

The New Fiduciary Rule (5): Discretionary Investment Management

The US Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining nondiscretionary fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment recommendations to retirement plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs.

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Labor’s proposed regulation defining fiduciary investment and insurance advice to private sector retirement plans, participants in those plans, and IRA owners (collectively, “retirement investors”) includes three distinct definitions.
  • Those definitions are discretionary investment management, nondiscretionary investment advice, and acknowledgement of fiduciary status.
  • The least controversial definition is that, when an investment professional provides investment management, or discretionary, services to retirement investors, the investment professional will be a fiduciary under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code.

This post discusses the “discretionary” definition of fiduciary investment advice in the DOL’s proposed fiduciary regulation.

Continue reading The New Fiduciary Rule (5): Discretionary Investment Management

Share

The New Fiduciary Rule (4): A Relationship of Trust and Confidence

The US Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining nondiscretionary fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment recommendations to retirement plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs.

Key Takeaways

    • The Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary “package” includes a new definition of nondiscretionary fiduciary investment advice.
    • In overturning the Obama-era fiduciary regulation, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the DOL’s definition of nondiscretionary fiduciary advice failed to define a relationship of “trust and confidence”. In the view of the court, fiduciary status only applied to financial recommendations made by an advisor who had a relationship of trust and confidence with an investor.
    • In drafting the new proposed fiduciary regulation, the Department of Labor considered that holding and made an effort to define nondiscretionary advice in a manner consistent with a trust and confidence standard.

This article discusses the DOL’s proposed definition of nondiscretionary advice and the comments in the preamble about relationships of trust and confidence.

Continue reading The New Fiduciary Rule (4): A Relationship of Trust and Confidence

Share

The New Fiduciary Rule (3): Fixed Indexed Annuities

The US Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining nondiscretionary fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment recommendations to retirement plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs.

Key Takeaways

    • Statements from the White House indicate that the DOL and the White House are concerned that fixed indexed annuities may be inappropriately sold to participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”) in connection with recommendations to roll over benefits from plans and to transfer money from IRAs. Some of the political rhetoric accompanying the release of the proposals was unusually harsh.
    • The reaction from the insurance industry and state insurance commissioners has been immediate and strong.
    • If the proposals become final as written, the greatest impact of the changes will likely be on insurance agents, particularly independent producers.
    • The greatest impact on products will likely be on fixed indexed annuities.
    • This and several following articles will cover the impact on independent insurance agents, insurance companies, and annuities.

This article discusses the DOL’s thoughts on prudent processes for evaluating fixed indexed annuities, which dates back to the Obama-era Best Interest Contract Exemption (which was vacated in 2018 by the 5th Circuit of Appeals).

Continue reading The New Fiduciary Rule (3): Fixed Indexed Annuities

Share

The New Fiduciary Rule (2): The Impact

The US Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment advice to plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs.

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary “package” will have different impacts on different types of service providers to retirement plans, participants, and IRA owners (collectively, “retirement investors”) . . . .investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks and trust companies, and insurance agents (and companies) (“financial professionals”).
  • The greatest impact of the changes, if finalized as is, will be on insurance agents, particularly independent producers. Insurance companies issuing the life insurance policies and annuity contracts will also see increased compliance burdens.
  • For all of the types of financial professionals, the most impactful change will likely be that one-time investment recommendations to private sector retirement plans and their participants, and to IRA owners, will be fiduciary advice. That includes rollover recommendations.

This post discusses the likely impact of the new proposals. Future posts will go into more detail about the proposals and compliance issues:

Continue reading The New Fiduciary Rule (2): The Impact

Share

Most Read Insights – Summer 2023

Each calendar quarter, benefits and executive compensation partner Fred Reish posts approximately 12 articles on his blog, fredreish.com. This quarterly digest provides links to the most popular posts during the past three months so that you can catch up on what you missed or re-read them.

Rollovers, Regulation, Litigation: Where Are We and What’s Next?

The recent decisions on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) interpretation of fiduciary status are significant but limited in scope. Fiduciary status for plan-to-IRA rollover recommendations, standing alone, has been vacated. But other important transactions, such as IRA transfers, have not.

The Secure Act 2.0: The Most Impactful Provisions #14 — Automatic Portability for IRA Force-Outs

Current law permits plans to force out distributions of accounts with less than $5,000 in benefits if a departed employee does not affirmatively elect to receive their benefits. (That amount is increasing to $7,000 in 2024.) The “force-out” amounts must be rolled over into an IRA if the account balance is at least $1,000.

The DOL’s Regulatory Agenda and a New Fiduciary Rule

On September 8, the DOL sent a new fiduciary rule and list of prohibited transactions to the Office of Management & Budget in the White House. The DOL proposed amendments to prohibited transaction exemptions, including PTE 84-24, the exemption used for fiduciary rollover recommendations into individual annuity contracts.

Share

The New Fiduciary Rule (1): An Overview

The US Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment advice to plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs.

Key Takeaways

  • One time investment recommendations to qualified and ERISA retirement plans and their participants, and to IRA owners, can be fiduciary advice. Plans, participants and IRA owners are referred to as “retirement investors”.
  • A rollover recommendation is one-time advice that will result in fiduciary status.
  • Fiduciary recommendations that result in compensation to a securities adviser (that is, to an investment adviser or broker-dealer) or to an insurance agent will be prohibited conflicts of interest, necessitating satisfaction of the conditions in a prohibited transaction exemption.

This blog post is an overview of the new proposals. Follow up posts will go into detail on each of the proposals.

The proposed fiduciary regulation—called the “Retirement Security Rule”–defines fiduciary advice as follows:

Continue reading The New Fiduciary Rule (1): An Overview

Share

The SEC’s 2024 Examination Priorities: Impact on IRAs and Retirement Plans

Key Takeaways

  • The SEC Division of Examinations is focused on advice to older investors and retirement investors. Advisors and their firms should review their practices for those investors.
  • Among the concerns of the Division of Examinations is whether conflicts are adequately disclosed so that investors can provide informed consent. Off-the-shelf disclosures may not have sufficient information to pass that test.
  • The starting point for making an investment recommendation or providing investment advice is to develop a profile of the investor that considers the information relevant to the investor’s needs and circumstances. The information needed for the profile for retired investors may be different than for accumulation investors. Questionnaires and other information gathering materials should be reviewed to ensure their adequacy for purposes of investors who will regularly withdraw cash for lifelong retirement income from their accounts.

The SEC Division of Examinations recently released its 2024 Examination Priorities (2024-exam-priorities.pdf (sec.gov)). While the Priorities cover a range issues, this article focuses on the Priorities that could impact advice and recommendations by investment advisers and dual registrants (both referred to as advisors in this article)  to  retirement investors. “Retirement Investors” is DOL terminology for investors in retirement plans and IRAs. My interchangeable use of SEC and DOL language is justified by their shared interest in protecting people who are saving and investing for retirement and who are investing and spending in retirement.

Continue reading The SEC’s 2024 Examination Priorities: Impact on IRAs and Retirement Plans

Share

The DOL’s Regulatory Agenda and a New Fiduciary Rule

UPDATE: On August 8, I posted this blog article in contemplation of the DOL sending a new fiduciary proposal package to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) in the White House. One month later, to the day, the receipt of the DOL’s proposed fiduciary rule and prohibited transactions was posted on the OMB’s website. In reviewing my blog article, I think it was spot on in predicting key elements of the fiduciary rule and the exemptions. However, that is still based on my crystal ball, since the changes new proposals won’t be known until they are vetted by the OMB and published in the Federal Register—probably 45 to 60 days from now. As this article suggests, the fiduciary proposal will likely say that rollover recommendations are fiduciary advice and that rollover recommendations to annuities will be subject to more stringent standards.

Key Takeaways

  • The anticipated DOL proposed fiduciary regulation could be sent to the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) in a matter of weeks.
  • The proposal will likely say that a rollover recommendation to a participant in an ERISA governed retirement plan is a fiduciary act.
  • The DOL will also likely propose amendments to prohibited transaction exemptions (PTEs), including to PTE 84-24, the exemption used for fiduciary rollover recommendations into individual annuity contracts.

The DOL has not appealed the decision in the Florida Federal District Court that vacated its fiduciary “re-interpretation.” That re-interpretation, in effect, said that ongoing investment advice to a rollover IRA could be connected to the rollover recommendation to a participant such that the “regular basis” prong of the 5-part fiduciary test would be satisfied. For context, the DOL had previously said that, if a person was not already a fiduciary to a plan, a recommendation to a participant to rollover his or her benefits was a standalone recommendation and therefore did not satisfy the regular basis prong of the 5-part test.

The re-interpretation tried to connect the recommendation to the plan (that is, for the participant to rollover to an IRA) to subsequent investment advice to the rollover IRA and, in that way, to conclude that the rollover recommendation was part of a regular basis advice arrangement. However, the Court held that the “regular basis” test is applied separately to the plan and the IRA and advice to the two could not be connected.

Continue reading The DOL’s Regulatory Agenda and a New Fiduciary Rule

Share