Tag Archives: management

The New Fiduciary Rule (5): Discretionary Investment Management

The US Department of Labor has released its package of proposed changes to the regulation defining nondiscretionary fiduciary advice and to the exemptions for conflicts and compensation for investment recommendations to retirement plans, participants (including rollovers), and IRAs.

Key Takeaways

  • The Department of Labor’s proposed regulation defining fiduciary investment and insurance advice to private sector retirement plans, participants in those plans, and IRA owners (collectively, “retirement investors”) includes three distinct definitions.
  • Those definitions are discretionary investment management, nondiscretionary investment advice, and acknowledgement of fiduciary status.
  • The least controversial definition is that, when an investment professional provides investment management, or discretionary, services to retirement investors, the investment professional will be a fiduciary under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code.

This post discusses the “discretionary” definition of fiduciary investment advice in the DOL’s proposed fiduciary regulation.

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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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