Lawmakers confused by the nuanced debate surrounding the Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary standard are pounded with a catchword by those trying to stop the new regulation: unworkable.
As the comment period on the rule is now set to close in a matter of weeks, one interest group leading the pushback against the DOL has circulated a one-page primer on Capitol Hill as to why the DOL’s ideas for setting a uniform fiduciary standard for all advisors to IRAs, and those to smaller 401(k) plans, is just that.
The Financial Services Institute, which lobbies on behalf of more than 100 broker-dealers and 35,000 broker reps, says it is “ready and willing” to work with the DOL in creating a best interest standard that puts “investors’ interests first,” according to the primer.
But what Labor is suggesting can’t stand, says the lobby group.
At the heart of the FSI’s argument is that so-called “wrap accounts,” or fee-based brokerage accounts, may not be best for some investors.
While the DOL’s new rule does not prohibit commission-based compensation, as the first effort at establishing a rule sought to, critics of the proposal say the complexities of the Best Interest Contract Exemption clause, which requires exhaustive disclosures of compensation on investments, and even forward-looking cost projections in fees to investors, will move advisors away from commission-based advice.
As advisors move investors to fee-based accounts, the upshot may be that investors ultimately pay more for advice, according to the FSI fact sheet, which does not come with data supporting the claim.
FSI also takes aim at a core argument Labor Secretary Thomas Perez recently advanced in testifying before a House subcommittee.
Online robo-advisory platforms will be able to step in and supplant roles traditionally filled by human advisors, guaranteeing low and middle-income investors non-conflicted, low-cost advice, according to testimony Perez gave committee members.
Sec. Perez cited Wealthfront, the California-based tech firm that now manages $2.5 billion in assets, and offers low-dollar accounts fee-free access in the hope of one day generating revenue as the accounts grow, as an example of how the DOL’s rule comports with the technology evolution in the advisory space.
That model lacks comprehensive advisory capabilities, according to FSI’s argument, because it doesn’t give investors the benefit of advice relative to tax planning, drawing down retirement assets, or how to manage soaring medical costs in retirement.
And the provision in the DOL proposal that exempts advisors for acting as fiduciaries to 401(k) plans with more than 100 participants or $100 million in assets will fundamentally hurt small businesses’ ability to offer retirement plans, as advisors will flee that market under the burdens and new liabilities insisted by the proposal, according to the FSI.