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Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #82- Undisclosed (and Disclosed) 12b-1 Fees: The Different Views of the SEC and DOL

This is my 82nd article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s (DOL) fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions and related developments in the securities laws.

On February 12, 2018, the SEC announced a remedial program called the “Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative” (“SCSDI”). Simply stated, the temporary program says that investment advisers who have received undisclosed 12b-1 fees can correct and self-report. In that case, the SEC staff will not recommend financial penalties. However, if an investment adviser does not correct and self-report and the SEC later examines the adviser and discovers those undisclosed payments, the staff will likely be more aggressive about recommending penalties (because the advisers were given the opportunity to self-correct, but failed to do so).

If you would like to know more about that program, here is a link to an article written by two of my firm’s securities lawyers, Jim Lundy and Mary Hansen.

The purpose of this post is not to describe the SEC program, but instead to discuss the same issue from the perspective of the Fiduciary Rule and the prohibited transaction exemptions (and, in particular, the Best Interest Contract Exemption, BICE). This article focuses on investment advice and management for IRAs, rather than retirement plans. However, the principles are the same.

So . . . what are the consequences under the Fiduciary Rule (which became applicable on June 9, 2017) for advisory services to IRAs, where an investment adviser receives undisclosed 12b-1 fees? (By the way, the Fiduciary Rule also applies to advice by financial advisors and insurance agents and brokers. In that regard, it is of broader application than the SEC rules.)

To analyze the issues, the advice needs to be considered in two scenarios. The first is where a fiduciary adviser is providing non-discretionary investment advice; the second is where the fiduciary adviser is managing the account with discretion.

Where a fiduciary adviser has discretion, that is, where the adviser is actually managing the account, the adviser can only receive his stated fee. Stated slightly differently, the adviser cannot receive anything in addition to the advisory fee that results from the adviser’s investment decisions. BICE does not provide an exemption, or exception, for discretionary investment management; BICE only applies to non-discretionary investment advice.

And, to further complicate matters, the Fiduciary Rule prohibits the receipt of additional 12b-1 fees for discretionary investment management regardless of whether those fees are disclosed or not.

How can an adviser remedy the situation? The answer is that, to the extent that a discretionary fiduciary adviser receives additional payments (e.g., 12b-1 fees), the adviser must either offset those payments against the advisory fee—on a dollar-for-dollar basis—or must pay the 12b-1 fees over into the IRA.

As a result, the Fiduciary Rule is more demanding for discretionary investment management than the SEC rules are.

What about non-discretionary investment advice to IRAs?

Prior to June 9, 2017, the receipt of any additional payments for non-discretionary investment advice would have been treated the same as the receipt of additional payments for discretionary investment management (that is, the retention of those payments would have been prohibited). However, on June 9 the “transition” version of BICE became applicable. Under transition BICE, a fiduciary adviser can receive compensation in addition to the advisory fee so long as the adviser’s total compensation is reasonable (and so long as the firm, that is, the RIA or broker-dealer has policies, procedures and practices that ensure that the additional compensation does not incent the fiduciary adviser to make recommendations that are not in the best interest of the retirement investor).

Unfortunately, that second requirement—the policies, procedures and practices—is not well defined. Almost any additional compensation could be viewed as a potential incentive for a fiduciary adviser to increase his or her compensation. However, I believe that, if attention is paid to the subject, and if the people designing the policies, procedures and practices understand the rules, compliant programs can be developed.

But that assumes that the additional compensation was disclosed, which is different than the SEC’s SCSD Initiative. The SEC’s remedial program was designed to provide correction and reporting of the failure to disclose the receipt of additional 12b-1 fees. In that case, I believe that the DOL would take the same position as the SEC. That is, I believe that the DOL would take the position that, if the retirement investor (that is, the IRA owner) had not authorized the payment of the additional 12b-1 fees, the fiduciary adviser was setting his own compensation without the approval of the IRA owner and, therefore, the receipt of those payments was a prohibited transaction for which BICE did not provide relief.

Viewed in that way, the DOL Fiduciary Rule for non-discretionary advice is similar to the SEC’s, but still more demanding. For example, even if the additional 12b-1 fees were disclosed, the Fiduciary Rule and BICE require that the total compensation be reasonable. And, if not disclosed, there is a good chance that the Fiduciary Rule and BICE would be interpreted in a way that results in the 12b-1 fees being prohibited transactions.

Where do we end up? First, fully disclosed compensation, if reasonable, is permissible under the Fiduciary Rule and the exemptions for non-discretionary investment advice. Second, the receipt of additional amounts, such as 12b-1 fees, is prohibited where the adviser has discretion to manage the account, even if the total compensation is reasonable.

In this brave new world of the Fiduciary Rule, it’s important to understand the differences between the rules of the SEC, FINRA and the DOL. That is particularly true for advisory services to IRAs, since my experience is that many advisers to IRAs have little, if any, understanding of the new Fiduciary Rule and exemptions.

Part 1- Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #1

Part 2 - Best Interest Standard of Care: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #2 

Part 3 - Hidden Preamble Observations: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #3

Part 4 - TV Stock Tips and Fiduciary Advice: Interesting Angles #4

Part 5 - Level Fee Fiduciary Exemption: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #5

Part 6 - Fiduciary Regulation And The Exemptions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #6

Part 7 - Fiduciary Regulations And The Exemptions : Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #7

Part 8 - Designated Investment Alternatives: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #8

Part 9 - Best Interest Standard and the Prudent Man Rule: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #9

Part 10 - FINRA Regulatory Notice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #10

Part 11-ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #11

Part 12- Potential Prohibited Transactions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #12

Part 13-Investment Policies: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #13

Part 14- Investment Suggestions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #14

Part 15- Best Interest Contract Exemption: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #15

Part 16 - Adviser Recommendations: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #16

Part 17 - Level Fee Fiduciary: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #17

Part 18- Best Interest Contract Exemption and IRA Advisor Compensation: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #18

Part 19- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #19: Advisors' Use of "Hire Me" Practices.

Part 20- Three Parts of "Best Interest Standard of Care": Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #20

Part 21- Retirement Plan Documentation and Prudent Recommendation: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #21

Part 22-Banks and Prohibited Transactions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #22

Part 23-Prohibited Transactions: IRA and RIA Qualified Money: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #23

Part 24 - Differential Compensation Based on Neutral Factors

Part 25-Reasonable Compensation Versus Neutral Factors: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #25

Part 26- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #26- Reasonable Compensation for IRAs: When and How Long?

Part 27 - Definition of Compensation

Part 28 - What About Rollovers that Aren’t Recommended?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #28

Part 29- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #29- Capturing Rollovers: What Information is Needed?

Part 30- Three Kinds of Level Fee Fiduciaries . . . and What’s A “Level Fee?”: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #30

Part 31 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #31: “Un-levelizing” Level Fee Fiduciaries

Part 32 - What “Level Fee Fiduciary” Means for Rollover Advice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #32

Part 33- Discretionary Management, Rollovers and BICE: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #33

Part 34- Seminar Can Be Fiduciary Act: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #34

Part 35- Presidential Memorandum on Fiduciary Rule: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #35

Part 36 -Retirement Advice and the SEC: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #36

Part 37 - SEC Retirement-Targeted Examinations: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #37

Part 38- SEC Examinations of RIAs and Broker-Dealers under the ReTIRE Initiative: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #38

Part 39- FINRA Regulatory Notice 13-45: Guidance on Distributions and Rollovers: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #39

Part 40 - New Rule, Old Rule - What Should Advisers Do Now?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #40

Part 41 - While We Wait: The Current Fiduciary Rule and Annuities: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #41

Part 42 - Rollovers under DOL’s Final Rule: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #42

Part 43 - BICE Transition: More Than the Eye Can See - Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #43

Part 44 - Basic Structure of Fiduciary Package (June 9): Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #44

Part 45 - DOL Fiduciary “Package”: Basics on the Prohibited Transaction Exemptions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #45

Part 46 - How Does an Adviser Know How to Satisfy the Best Interest Standard?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #46

Part 47- “Real” Requirements of Fiduciary Rule: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #47

Part 48- The Last Word: The Fiduciary Rule Applies on June 9- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #48

Part 49- The Requirement to Disclose Fiduciary Status: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #49

Part 50- Fourth Impartial Conduct Standard: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #50

Part 51- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #51: Recommendations to Transfer IRAs

Part 52 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #52: The Fiduciary Rule and Exemptions: How Long Will Our Transition Be?

Part 53 - Fiduciary Rule and Discretionary Investment Management: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #53

Part 54 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #54: The DOL’s RFI and Possible changes to BICE

Part 55- DOL’s RFI and Recommendation of Annuities- Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #55

Part 56-Recommendations of Contributions as Fiduciary Advice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #56

Part 57- Relief from 408(b)(2) Requirement on Change Notice: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #57

Part 58- Recommendations to Contribute to a Plan or IRA- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #58

Part 59- What Plans and Arrangements Are Covered by the Fiduciary Rule: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #59

Part 60- What the Tibble Decision Means to Advisers: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #60

Part 61- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #61: The Fiduciary Rule, Distributions and Rollovers

Part 62 - Is It Possible To Be An Advisor Without Being A Fiduciary? - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #62

Part 63-Policies and Procedures: The Fourth BICE Requirement - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #63

Part 64 -What Does the Best Interest Standard of Care Require?-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #64

Part 65- Unexpected Consequences of Fiduciary Rule - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #65

Part 66- Concerns About 408(b)(2) Disclosures: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #66

Part 67- From the DOL to the SEC - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #67

Part 68-Recommendations of Distributions - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #68

Part 69- Compensation Risks for Broker-Dealers and RIAs: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #69

Part 70-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #70: The Fiduciary Rule and Recordkeeper Services

Part 71- Senate, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, income tax rate, Corporate Tax Rate, Passthrough Entities, Foreign Income, Qualified Property, Interest Deduction Limitation

Part 72-Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #72 - The "Wholesaler" Exception

Part 73- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #73: Recordkeeper Investment Support for Plan Sponsors

Part 74 -Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #74: One More Fiduciary Issue for Recordkeepers

Part 75 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #75: The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs

Part 76 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #76

Part 77 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #77: The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs (#2)

Part 78 - Interesting Angles on the DOL's Fiduciary Rule #78: The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs (#3) 

Part 79 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #79-The Fiduciary Rule: Mistaken Beliefs (#4)

Part 80 - Enforceable During Transition?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #80

Part 81 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #81: The Fiduciary Rule Prohibits Commissions... or Not (Myth #6)

©2018 Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved

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About this Author

Fred Reisch, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Los Angeles, Labor and Employment Law Attorney
Partner

Fred Reish represents clients in fiduciary issues, prohibited transactions, tax-qualification and Department of Labor, Securities and Exchange Commission and FINRA examinations of retirement plans and IRA issues.

Fred works with both private and public sector entities and their plans and fiduciaries and represents plans, employers and fiduciaries before federal agencies such as the DOL and IRS. He consults with banks, trust companies, insurance companies and mutual fund management companies on 401(k) recordkeeping services, investment products and...

(310) 203-4047