Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #44

The Basic Structure of the Fiduciary Package (June 9)

This is my 44th 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.

This article focuses on the fiduciary rule; next week I will discuss two of the exemptions, the Best Interest Contract Exemption and 84-24.

As we all know by now, the DOL’s new fiduciary definition applies on June 9. As a result the following recommendations will be fiduciary acts on and after June 9:

  • Recommendations of investments, investment strategies, insurance and annuities, investment managers, other fiduciaries, distributions and rollovers, and IRA transfers;
  • Recommendations to ERISA plans, participants or IRA owners.

Fiduciary recommendations to plans and participants (including rollover recommendations) will be subject to ERISA’s prudent man rule and duty of loyalty and, therefore, any breaches can be enforced as ERISA claims.

The same is not true for recommendations to IRAs, because the law does not establish a prudent man and duty of loyalty standard of care for advice to IRAs.

However, that is not the end of the story.

Where an adviser provides fiduciary services to an IRA for a level fee (for example, 1% per year and no other benefits or compensation is received), the adviser will be subject to the standard of care established by the securities laws.

But, if the adviser (or his supervisory entity, e.g., a broker-dealer) receives compensation that is a prohibited transaction (e.g., commissions, 12b-1 fees, asset-based revenue sharing, etc.), the adviser and entity will need the protection of a prohibited transaction exemption.

For the rest of this year–the “transition period,” most firms will use the Best Interest Contract Exemption. However, it is not the BICE you have been hearing about over the past year. Instead, it is “transition BICE.” Transition BICE requires that the entity and the adviser only comply with the Impartial Conduct Standards (ICS). The ICS has 3 components: the best interest standard of care, only reasonable compensation, and no materially misleading statements.

In effect the best interest standard of care brings the ERISA prudent man rule and duty of loyalty to IRAs. As a result, advisers and their supervisory entities need to educate themselves on the requirements of a prudent process with a duty of loyalty to the IRA owner. The suitability and know-your-customer requirements are a part of that, but only part.

Some other things to consider are:

  • The DOL has historically taken the position that a prudent process must be documented. How will advisers be doing that?
  • It is clear that under ERISA, advisers to plans must consider the costs of the investments. That is likely to be extended to IRAs under the best interest standard. How will advisers to IRAs evaluate the expense ratios of recommended mutual funds and the expenses imbedded in annuities? Will the entities (e.g., broker-dealers) be specifying which software is to be used for that purpose?
  • It is also clear under ERISA that the quality of the mutual funds must be considered, quantitatively and qualitatively. What will that process look like for IRAs? How will it be documented? What software will be used for that purpose? Some broker-dealers are limiting the mutual fund families that can be recommended to “qualified” accounts.

These are just some examples. There are others.

But, for the moment, the message is that, beginning on June 9, advisers and their supervisory entities must understand and apply these concepts.

Since the deadline is right around the corner, these are high priority issues.

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.