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The New Fiduciary Rule (8): Special Issues—Robo Advice and Investment Education

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

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.
  • While the current version of PTE 2020-02 does not extend relief for prohibited transactions resulting from robo advice (that is, it requires a human intermediary), the proposal would extend the PTE’s protections to conflicts of interest (that is, prohibited transactions) so long as the conditions of the exemption are satisfied.
  • Some commenters have suggested that the new definitions of fiduciary status and of covered transactions are so broad that investment education would be considered fiduciary advice. To be polite, that is an exaggeration.

My last post, The New Fiduciary Rule (7), discuss the “non-discretionary” definition of fiduciary investment advice in the DOL’s proposed fiduciary regulation. The other two definitions of fiduciary status are covered by my posts The New Fiduciary Rule (5) and The New Fiduciary Rule (6).

The proposed definition of non-discretionary fiduciary advice is a material change from the current regulation because it eliminates the 5-part test, including the requirement that advice be given to the particular retirement investor on a “regular basis.” In other words, a one-time recommendation can be fiduciary advice under this definition. (The definition is somewhat more demanding that just “one-time advice,” but I will refer to it as one-time advice for purposes of this article. If you want to know more about the detailed definition, look at my last post.)

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