Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #42

Rollovers under the DOL’s Final Rule

This is my 42nd article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

On April 7, 2017 the DOL issued its final regulation on the extension of the applicability date for the fiduciary definition and the related exemptions. This article discusses the impact of those changes on fiduciary status for recommendations to plan participants to take distributions and roll over to IRAs.

In its guidance, the DOL extended the applicability date of the new fiduciary definition from April 10 to June 9, but did not otherwise modify the definition. Since the fiduciary rule defined a recommendation to take a plan distribution as fiduciary advice, any recommendation to take a distribution and rollover to an IRA on or after June 9 will be a fiduciary act. As a result, an adviser will need to engage in a prudent process to develop and make such a recommendation. (For purposes of this rule, an “adviser” includes a representative of an RIA or a broker-dealer, an insurance agent or broker, or any other person who makes such a recommendation and receives compensation, directly or indirectly, as a result. An advisory fee from the IRA or a commission from an annuity or mutual fund are examples of compensation.)

However, more is involved that just the fiduciary rule. A recommendation to rollover is also a prohibited transaction, since the adviser will typically make more money if the participant rolls over than if the participant leaves the money in that plan. Because of the prohibited transaction, the adviser will need an exemption. Under the latest changes to the rules, advisers will probably use a process called “transition BIC,” which is a reference to a transition rule under the Best Interest Contract Exemption. (This process applies only from June 9 to December 31, unless it is extended. But it is likely that, at the least, these requirements will be part of any future exemption.). Transition BIC requires only that the adviser comply with the “Impartial Conduct Standards” (ICS).

The ICS requires that advisers adhere to the best interest standard of care, receive no more than reasonable compensation, and make no materially misleading statements. For this article, let’s focus on the best interest standard. Generally stated it is a combination of the ERISA prudent man rule and duty of loyalty.

So, an adviser must satisfy both ERISA’s prudent man rule (for the recommendation) and the BIC best interest rule (for the exemption). Since the two standards of care are virtually identical, I have combined them for this discussion.

But, that begs the question of, what is a prudent and best interest process?

Specifically, it is that the adviser must act “with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing that a prudent man acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims; . . .”

So, what would a prudent, knowledgeable and loyal person, who is making a recommendation about retirement investing (the “aims” of the “enterprise”), do? The first step is to gather the information needed to make an informed decision. Then that information needs to be evaluated in light of the participant’s needs and circumstances of the participant . . .with a duty of loyalty to the participant.

The only clear guidance from the DOL about what information needs to be gathered and evaluated is found in Q14 in the DOL’s Conflict of Interest FAQs (Part I-Exemptions).

The first part of the FAQ discusses the information needed if the adviser is a “Level Fee Fiduciary.” Basically, the information includes the investments, expenses and services in the plan and the proposed IRA.

But at the end of the FAQ, the DOL explains that those considerations must be evaluated even if the adviser is using regular BIC (as opposed to the Level Fee Fiduciary provision).

Accordingly, any fiduciary seeking to meet the best interest standard (in order to satisfy transition BIC) would engage in a prudent analysis of this information before recommending that an investor roll over plan assets to an IRA, regardless of whether the fiduciary was a “level fee” fiduciary or a fiduciary complying with BIC.

In other words, any adviser making a distribution and rollover recommendation on or after June 9, 2017 must have a process for gathering and evaluating information about the investments, expenses and services in the participant’s plan and in the proposed IRA, and about the participant’s needs and circumstances.

This subject is more complicated than can be covered adequately in a short article, but this is a start for understanding the new rules for distributions and rollovers.

The views expressed in this article are the views of Fred Reish, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Drinker Biddle & Reath.

The material contained in this communication is informational, general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. The material contained in this communication should not be relied upon or used without consulting a lawyer to consider your specific circumstances. This communication was published on the date specified and may not include any changes in the topics, laws, rules or regulations covered. Receipt of this communication does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In some jurisdictions, this communication may be considered attorney advertising.

The views expressed in this article are the views of Fred Reish, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Faegre Drinker.