As you have undoubtedly heard, the Department of Labor has pushed back the date for the re-proposal of the fiduciary advice regulation to January of next year. In addition, the SEC is working with the DOL to help determine the impact of an expanded fiduciary advice regulation on the ability of investors to continue to receive adequate investment services. Finally, the White House is also evaluating the potential impact of a regulation that expands the definition of fiduciary advice. The big question, of course, is what does all of this mean?
As you might expect, everyone has an opinion on that subject. So, depending upon your personal beliefs, you can find opinions that either agree or disagree with your position. But, the truth is that the people who know aren’t talking, and the people who are talking don’t know.
One plausible explanation is that the controversy concerning the regulation has risen to the point that it is a political liability. In other words, that line of reasoning holds that these activities are signs that the re-proposal is in danger.
However, another line of reasoning is that the regulation remains viable, and probable, but that the politicians and the regulators want to make sure that they get it right. (If that is the case, then “right” probably means that appropriate prohibited transaction exemptions are crafted so that valuable services and quality products are not prohibited.)
If I were a betting man (and, for this purpose, I am), my bet would be that the second scenario is the more likely. I have a hard time believing that all of this political and regulatory effort is being made for a proposal that will be killed. In other words, I think that there is a good chance that the DOL will issue a proposed regulation in the first half of next year. I also think that there is a good chance that the proposed prohibited transaction exemptions that accompany the guidance will be more thoughtful and practical than might be expected.
In any event, if and when we get the proposal, the first thing that I will look at is . . . the proposed prohibited transaction exemption concerning fiduciary investment advice to IRAs. In particular, I want to see what it says about variable compensation and about proprietary investments and products.
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