Category Archives: prohibited transaction

Discretionary Management of IRAs: Conflicts and Prohibited Transactions

Key Takeaways

  • Where an investment adviser charges different fees for managing fixed income in a portfolio than for managing equities, and has discretion to determine the allocation between the two in an IRA, the investment adviser has control over its fees, which appears to violate a prohibited transaction provision in the Internal Revenue Code.
  • The inadvertent violation can be corrected, going forward, by using a blended rate where both allocations are charged the same fee. In other words, there would just be an account fee and not a fee that varied by allocations that are within the control of the investment adviser.
  • There are other potential solutions, including transitioning the allocations to nondiscretionary advice.

Discussion

Both the Internal Revenue Code (Code) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) include prohibited transaction provisions that literally prohibit certain transactions (unless exempted by statute or by a prohibited transaction exemption). ERISA-governed qualified retirement plans are subject to both ERISA and Code prohibitions. However, standalone IRAs are only subject to the Code prohibitions. In that regard, Code sections 4975(c)(1)(E) and (F) provide:

(c) Prohibited transaction

(1) General rule

For purposes of this section, the term “prohibited transaction” means any direct or indirect—

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(E) act by a disqualified person who is a fiduciary whereby he deals with the income or assets of a plan in his own interest or for his own account; or

(F) receipt of any consideration for his own personal account by any disqualified person who is a fiduciary from any party dealing with the plan in connection with a transaction involving the income or assets of the plan.

In plain English, subparagraph (E) means that a fiduciary adviser cannot manage an IRA’s investments in a way that benefits the adviser beyond the negotiated advisory fee. For example, a fiduciary adviser could negotiate a fee of 1% (or 100 basis points) for managing an equity portfolio and 70 basis points for managing a fixed income portfolio without a problem (so long as the amounts are reasonable for the services rendered). But, when the fiduciary adviser can move money from one portfolio (or part of a portfolio) to another, and the fees are increased by that movement of money, the adviser has dealt with the assets of the “plan” (which includes IRAs) for his own interest. It is even conceivable that the IRS could take the position that, if the fiduciary adviser has discretion to allocate all of the portfolio to fixed income investments, any allocation to equities (with the higher fees) would be a prohibited transaction.

As an extreme example, if the adviser in this hypothetical scenario managed one-half of a portfolio in equities (for a fee of 100 basis points) and one-half in fixed income (for 70 basis points), but then, with unilateral discretion moved the fixed income allocation to equities—thereby increasing the adviser’s fees on those assets to 100 basis points, it appears that the fiduciary adviser would have used its discretion for its own interest or account, which is a prohibited transaction.

Before going further, I should point out that ERISA defines a fiduciary adviser to include any adviser that manages IRA or plan assets with discretion—in a sense, a one-part test, which is, does the adviser have discretion. To quote the regulation (§ 2510.3-21(c)(1)), a person is a fiduciary if:

Such person either directly or indirectly (e.g., through or together with any affiliate) –

(A) Has discretionary authority or control, whether or not pursuant to agreement, arrangement or understanding, with respect to purchasing or selling securities or other property for the plan;…”

To avoid confusion that could result from the use of the word “plan” in the quoted language, that term includes IRAs for purposes of the prohibited transaction rules. (See Code section 4975(e)(1).)

Going back to the example, if the fiduciary adviser had instead used a blended fee of, e.g., 85 basis points, the adviser could have discretion to reallocate the investments between equities and fixed income without running afoul of this prohibited transaction rule—because those changes did not and could not increase the adviser’s fees.

An alternative solution would be to change the allocation to nondiscretionary—that is, changes to the allocations could only be done only with client consent, and then to rely on, and comply with, Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02. For firms that are already complying with that PTE (for example, to recommend rollovers), that is a workable approach that would allow the adviser to retain the different fee levels for fixed income and equities (and possibly for additional asset classes) while complying with the rules.

Both of these solutions require thought and documentation. As a result, they should only be implemented in consultation with an attorney who is knowledgeable about these issues and rules.

While this article focuses on allocations among asset classes where the adviser charges different fees, the prohibited transaction rules apply to any use of the income or assets for the benefit of a fiduciary adviser. That would include, for example, the inclusion of proprietary investments (e.g., mutual funds) in managed accounts. The issues for that type of arrangement are even more complex. For example, there is an exemption that permits the receipt the higher of the two fees (that is, the account fee or the fund fee), but that approach has not an attractive option in most cases. The use of a nondiscretionary approach under PTE 2020-02 offers opportunities to firms that are willing the comply with the conditions of the exemption.

At the beginning of the article, I also quoted subparagraph (F) of the Code’s prohibited transactions. It is a slightly different prohibition. For example, it could apply to payments from custodians and 12b-1 fees (or other payments) from mutual funds or their affiliates. But that is for another article in the future.

Conclusion

 It is clear that regulatory and enforcement attention is turning to rollover IRAs—witness PTE 2020-02. I think that the regulators’ attention will also extend to IRAs more generally. As a result, now is the time to review practices related to advice to IRAs and to ensure that the practices of investment advisers (and other investment professionals) are complying with ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, and particularly with the prohibited transaction rules. This article will help identify some of the practices that could be problematic.

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Investment Advisers: The Independent Duties of Care and Loyalty

Key Takeaways

  • Recent SEC guidance has clarified that the investment adviser duties of care and loyalty are separate, independent duties.
  • A reasonable interpretation of the SEC and Staff guidance is that the satisfaction of one will not satisfy the other–both must be individually satisfied.
  • As a result, the SEC appears to be saying that, even if a conflict is disclosed, that does not, in and of itself, satisfy the duty of care. For example, if an adviser discloses that the adviser will receive compensation related to an investment decision or recommendation, e.g., revenue sharing, but the revenue sharing share class of a mutual fund is more expensive for the investor, the duty of care may be violated even though the duty of loyalty was satisfied.

There appear to be conflicting views of whether an investment adviser’s duty of care can be satisfied by disclosures that satisfy the duty of loyalty. That is, if an adviser discloses the receipt of additional compensation from investments or service providers, can the adviser then recommend or select that investment even though it may be more expensive for the client?  In recent years, the SEC has issued guidance that seems to answer that question…and the answer appears to be “no.” Based on its 2019 Commission Interpretation Regarding Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers, and the two 2022 SEC Staff Bulletins, the position of the SEC (and of the Staff) is that the duties of care and loyalty (together referred to as the duty to act in the best interest of investors) are separate and distinct, and that they each must be independently satisfied.

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #64: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest

The DOL “Fiduciary Rule,” FAQ 14: Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • The DOL FAQs generally explain PTE 2020-02 and the expanded definition of fiduciary advice.
  • FAQ 14 explains that, to obtain the relief provided by the PTE, financial institutions must disclose to “retirement investors” the conflicts of interest related to any recommendations.
  • The Impartial Conduct Standards, which do not require disclosure of conflicts, must be satisfied from February 16, 2021 until December 20, 2021 under the DOL’s non-enforcement policy (with concurrence by the IRS), and then on December 21, all of the conditions of PTE 2020-02 must be satisfied, including the disclosure of conflicts.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, in the preamble to the PTE the DOL announced an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

In April, the DOL issued FAQs that explain the fiduciary interpretation and the conditions of the exemption.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #64: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #63: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Acknowledgement of Fiduciary Status

The DOL “Fiduciary Rule,” FAQ 13: Written Acknowledgement of Fiduciary Status

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • The DOL FAQs generally explain PTE 2020-02 and the expanded definition of fiduciary advice.
  • FAQ 13 explains the DOL’s reasons for requiring that financial institutions and investment professionals provide retirement investors with a written acknowledgement of their status as fiduciaries for their recommendations.
  • The Impartial Conduct Standards, which do not require the declaration of fiduciary status, must be satisfied from February 16, 2021 until December 20, 2021 under the DOL’s non-enforcement policy (with concurrence by the IRS), and then on December 21, all of the conditions of PTE 2020-02 must be satisfied, including the fiduciary acknowledgement.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, in the preamble to the PTE the DOL announced an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

In April, the DOL issued FAQs that explain the fiduciary interpretation and the conditions of the exemption.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #63: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Acknowledgement of Fiduciary Status

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #62: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Conflicted Compensation

The DOL “Fiduciary Rule,” FAQ 12: PTE 2020-02 and Conflicted Compensation

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • The DOL FAQs generally explain PTE 2020-02 and the expanded definition of fiduciary advice.
  • FAQ 12 explains that, if the conditions of the exemption are satisfied, financial institutions and investment professionals can receive conflicted compensation resulting from fiduciary recommendations to “retirement investors”, including IRA owners.
  • The Impartial Conduct Standards, must be satisfied from February 16, 2021 until December 20, 2021 under the DOL non-enforcement policy (with concurrence by the IRS), and then on December 21, all of the conditions of PTE 2020-02 must be satisfied.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, in the preamble to the PTE the DOL announced an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

In April, the DOL issued FAQs that explain the fiduciary interpretation and the conditions of the exemption.

This article discusses FAQ 12—a DOL question and answer about the receipt of compensation resulting from recommendations to retirement investors.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #62: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Conflicted Compensation

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #61: Interim Compliance with PTE 2020-02: The Impartial Conduct Standards

The DOL “Fiduciary Rule,” FAQ 11: The Impartial Conduct Standards

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • The DOL FAQs generally explain PTE 2020-02 and the expanded definition of fiduciary advice.
  • FAQ 11 discusses the Impartial Conduct Standards, which must be satisfied from February 16, 2021 until December 20, 2021 under the DOL non-enforcement policy (with concurrence by the IRS), and then on December 21, the Impartial Conduct Standards become one of the conditions of full compliance with PTE 2020-02.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, in the preamble to the PTE the DOL announced an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

In April, the DOL issued FAQs that explain the fiduciary interpretation and the conditions of the exemption.

This article discusses FAQ 11—a DOL question and answer about the Impartial Conduct Standards. The Impartial Conduct Standards must be satisfied between February 16 and December 20 to obtain the relief afforded by the DOL’s non-enforcement policy. After December 20, the Impartial Conduct Standards must still be satisfied…as one of the conditions in PTE 2020-02.

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Best Interest Standard #60: Compliance with PTE 2020-02

The DOL “Fiduciary Rule,” FAQ 10: The PTE Conditions

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • The DOL FAQs generally explain PTE 2020-02 and the expanded definition of fiduciary advice. FAQ 10 discusses the requirements imposed by the PTE.
  • Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02–has two parts. One part is the expanded interpretation of the definition of fiduciary advice (in the preamble to the PTE) which will cause many more rollover recommendations to be considered fiduciary advice. This article looks at DOL FAQ #9 that explains that Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02 provides relief from the prohibition on compensation from a rollover IRA due to a fiduciary recommendation to roll over.
  • The second part is an exemption that creates an exception to the prohibited transaction rules for fiduciary advice that results in compensation for a financial institution (e.g., broker-dealer or investment adviser) and its investment professionals. The exemption includes relief for compensation earned from a rollover IRA and its investments (including annuities). FAQ 10 covers the requirements of the exemption.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, in the preamble to the PTE the DOL announced an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

In April, the DOL issued FAQs that explain the fiduciary interpretation and the conditions of the exemption.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard #60: Compliance with PTE 2020-02

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #59

The Department of Labor’s “Fiduciary Rule,” PTE 2020-02:  The FAQs

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02–has two parts. One part is the expanded interpretation of the definition of fiduciary advice (in the preamble to the PTE) which will cause many more rollover recommendations to be considered fiduciary advice.
  • This article looks at DOL FAQ #9 that explains that Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02 provides relief from the prohibition on compensation from a rollover IRA due to a fiduciary recommendation to roll over.
  • The second part is an exemption that creates an exception to the prohibited transaction rules for fiduciary advice that results in compensation for a financial institution (e.g., broker-dealer or investment adviser) and its investment professionals. The exemption includes relief for compensation earned from a rollover IRA and its investments (including annuities). FAQ #9 explains that relief.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, the DOL announced, in the preamble to the PTE, an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #59

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #58

The Department of Labor’s “Fiduciary Rule,” PTE 2020-02:  The FAQs

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • This article looks at a DOL FAQ that explains the DOL’s interpretation of the “mutual understanding” and “primary basis” parts of the 5-part test.
  • The new fiduciary “rule”—Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02–has two parts. One part is the expanded interpretation of the definition of fiduciary advice (in the preamble to the PTE).
  • The expanded interpretation is just that—a broadening of the 5-part test in a 1975 regulation. The new interpretation dramatically changes the landscape of advice to participants (particularly for rollovers) and to IRA owners.
  • The combination of these interpretations (together with the “regular basis” interpretation) make it increasingly difficult to avoid fiduciary status for advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners where the financial relationship is ongoing

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, the DOL announced, in the preamble to the PTE, an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #58

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #57

The Department of Labor’s “Fiduciary Rule,” PTE 2020-02:  The FAQs

This series focuses on the DOL’s new fiduciary “rule”, which was effective on February 16. This, and the next several, articles look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) issued by the DOL to explain the fiduciary definition and the exemption for conflicts of interest.

Key Takeaways

  • The new fiduciary “rule”—Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2020-02–has two parts. One part is the expanded interpretation of the definition of fiduciary advice (in the preamble to the PTE).
  • The expanded interpretation is just that—a broadening of the 5-part test in a 1975 regulation. The new interpretation dramatically changes the landscape of advice to participants (particularly for rollovers) and to IRA owners.
  • This article looks at a DOL FAQ that discusses the “regular basis” part of the 1975 regulation and explains how it reverses the prior DOL position–and how that change means that many, if not most, rollover recommendations will be fiduciary advice subject to ERISA’s prudent man rule.

Background

The DOL’s prohibited transaction exemption (PTE) 2020-02 (Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees) allows investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, and insurance companies (“financial institutions”), and their representatives (“investment professionals”), to receive conflicted compensation resulting from non-discretionary fiduciary investment advice to retirement plans, participants and IRA owners (“retirement investors”). In addition, the DOL announced, in the preamble to the PTE, an expanded definition of fiduciary advice, meaning that many more financial institutions and investment professionals will be fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #57

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