Tag Archives: investment

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.


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—


(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.

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Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #85: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Special Issues: Monitoring (2)

Key Takeaways

The DOL has issued FAQs that generally explain PTE 2020-02 and the expanded definition of fiduciary advice.

The DOL’s expanded definition of fiduciary advice was described in the preamble to PTE 2020-02.

The PTE then provides conditional relief for conflicted non-discretionary recommendations, if its conditions are satisfied.

My last article, Best Interest #84, discussed the requirement in the preamble to PTE 2020-02 that, where products of “unusual complexity and risk” are recommended, there are best interest issues if monitoring services are not provided.

This article discusses products of unusual complexity and risk.


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 ERISA retirement plans, participants (including rollover recommendations), 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 are fiduciaries for their recommendations to retirement investors and, therefore, will need the protection provided by the exemption.

In the preamble to the PTE, the DOL described its expanded definition of fiduciary advice. The fiduciary regulations in ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code have two definitions of fiduciary advice. The first is the obvious—where the investment professional and financial institution have discretion over retirement accounts (ERISA or tax qualified plans, participant accounts in those plans, and IRAs). In effect, that is a one-part test—“discretion”. In addition, there is a 5-part test for non-discretionary fiduciary advice. The DOL did not amend the regulation to modify any of the “parts,” but instead reinterpreted some of the parts, and particularly the “regular basis” part, to significantly increase the number of investment professionals and financial institutions who are fiduciaries. This article is not about the expanded definition, but instead about a circumstance in which a fiduciary could have more responsibility than anticipated.

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #85: Compliance with PTE 2020-02: Special Issues: Monitoring (2)


Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #10

Regulation Best Interest: The Focus on Costs (Part 2)

The SEC has issued its final Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), Form CRS Regulation, RIA Interpretation and Solely Incidental Interpretation. I am discussing the SEC’s guidance in a series of articles entitled “Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors.”


The SEC’s Reg BI establishes a best interest standard of care for investment recommendations to retail customers by broker-dealers and their registered representatives. In addition, Reg BI requires new disclosures and mitigation of advisor’s financial conflicts of interest. The SEC also issued an Interpretation of the Standard of Conduct for Investment Advisers, which clarified the SEC’s position on a number of issues related to the fiduciary standard and conflicts of interest for RIAs. There were two other pieces of guidance: the Form CRS Regulation (which requires a simplified front-end disclosure by broker-dealers and investment advisers); and the Solely Incidental Interpretation for limited discretion and monitoring of accounts by broker-dealers.

In my last article in this series, I pointed out that the SEC has explicitly included the consideration of costs in the text of Reg BI and stated that broker-dealers must consider costs for every recommendation (beginning on Reg BI’s compliance date of June 30, 2020). That doesn’t mean that the lowest-cost investment or investment strategy must be recommended (e.g., where the customer’s investment profile indicates that a more expensive alternative would be better serve the investor), but it does mean that costs must be part of that analysis, and that higher-cost alternatives must be justified by the retail customer’s investment profile. Picking up with where the last article left off, here is the SEC’s thinking:

Continue reading Best Interest Standard of Care for Advisors #10