January 17, 2018

January 17, 2018

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

January 16, 2018

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

January 15, 2018

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

New York Department of Financial Services Proposes Fiduciary Regulation

On December 27, 2017, the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) proposed new consumer protections in life insurance sales that would adopt a “best interest” standard for sellers of life insurance and annuity products. In its current form, the Proposal raises a number of issues for producers and life insurers and annuity writers.

If adopted, the Proposal would establish a New York-specific standard for insurance licensee conduct by expanding the scope and requirements of New York’s suitability regulation, which currently applies to annuity contracts. This is consistent with New York’s approach to the regulation of other issues, such as cybersecurity, where New York has acted apart from its state regulator peers and the NAIC, and essentially forecloses the prospect of a national standard. The Proposal also will overlap in part with the DOL fiduciary rule and soon-to-be-proposed SEC rules as well as related standards/proposals in Nevada and Connecticut, raising potentially conflicting requirements, compliance challenges, and enforcement uncertainty.

Below are our preliminary thoughts and reactions to the Proposal. Comments on the Proposal are due by February 28, 2018.

Scope

  • The Proposal would expand the applicability of the existing suitability regulation to include insurance producers, life insurance policies, and in-force policies/contracts. It applies to policies/contracts delivered or issued for delivery in New York.

  • The Proposal does not change the existing suitability rule’s exemptions except to expand them, along with the overall change in scope, to include life insurance policies used for any of the exempted purposes. Thus, the regulation would continue to exempt policies/contracts used to fund qualified retirement plans, ERISA plans, and employer-sponsored IRAs. The Proposal also would not apply to sales of mutual funds or other securities, unless related to an annuity or life insurance product.

  • For all other sales, the Proposal would require licensees to apply a standard very similar to the DOL’s “best interests” standard, as well as the ERISA “prudent person” rule. The Proposal provides that a recommendation is in the best interest of a consumer if it is in furtherance of the consumer’s needs and objectives and is made “without regard to the financial or other interests of the producer, insurer, or any other party.”

  • In addition, the Proposal would require insurers to “establish and maintain procedures designed to prevent financial exploitation and abuse” and provide consumers/producers with “all relevant policy information[.]”

DOL Fiduciary Rule: Overlapping Regulation of Certain IRAs

  • Because the Proposal excludes ERISA plans, deferred compensation arrangements, and employer-sponsored/maintained IRAs, it avoids a direct clash with the DOL’s fiduciary rule. However, there is a fairly substantial amount of overlap between the Proposal and the DOL rule because the Proposal would apply to IRAs not associated with a plan sponsor.

  • The NYDFS definition of “recommendation” is similar, but not identical, to the DOL definition. The Proposal provides that a recommendation occurs when the statement(s) “reasonably may be interpreted by a consumer to be advice that results in a consumer entering into or refraining from entering into a transaction.” The DOL rule applies to any “suggestion” directed to a person that the person engage in or refrain from a particular course of action. Although the DOL standard is arguably broader than the NYDFS standard, that distinction may not make a difference from a regulatory enforcement or litigation perspective. (For example, the definitions, with their distinctions, will overlap for advice to IRA owners.)

  • The Proposal also imposes a different fiduciary standard of care than the DOL rule (and forthcoming SEC rule) – see below.

Securities Regulation: Standards of Conduct Potentially Inconsistent With Forthcoming SEC Rule

  • The SEC intends to adopt a uniform fiduciary standard that will presumably apply to the sale of variable annuities and other insurance products that include a securities component.

  • The SEC plans to propose this spring its fiduciary rule applicable to investment advisors and broker-dealers. The SEC Chairman has previously stated the SEC rulemaking will supplement, rather than replace, the DOL’s fiduciary rule.

Compliance and Litigation: Practical Challenges

  • With the Proposal, forthcoming SEC rules, and the DOL rule, as well as standards in other states, issuers of certain products (and producers) face the prospect of grappling with three potentially different fiduciary/best interest standards. Although the outcomes regarding fiduciary status – i.e., what is the fiduciary recommendation and what is the standard of care, may be more or less the same under each standard, licensees would still be facing potentially divergent approaches to enforcement among the regulatory agencies.

  • Some of the Proposal’s requirements also would impose potentially burdensome compliance obligations. Section 224.4 of the Proposal, in particular, imposes certain requirements that appear impractical. For example, in (l), a producer is considered a fiduciary for recommending a policy, but cannot indicate to the consumer that making such a recommendation is “financial advice” if the producer merely maintains an insurance producer license. In (m), all producers involved in a transaction are subject to all of the requirements of the Proposal, even if they have no direct contact with the consumer (and thus would not have made a recommendation to the consumer), and this provision could be interpreted to apply to a non-resident producer who is not licensed in New York. Further, although the disclosures in Section 224.4(b)(3) are similar to the conditions of the 84-24 exemption needed to avoid prohibited transactions under ERISA, Section 224.4(b)(3) also requires disclosure of, and imposes limitations on, the producer’s compensation in accordance with New York’s compensation disclosure regulation (Regulation 194) and NYIL Section 2119.

  • The Proposal might be construed to create a continuing duty to monitor and provide advice after the sale. In contrast, the DOL rule allows the person making the recommendation to limit or disclaim a duty to monitor.

  • The Proposal also could be interpreted to potentially impose a fiduciary obligation on insurers/annuity writers even if the producer did not have actual or apparent authority to act on behalf of the insurer/annuity writer – and when the alleged conduct occurs after the point of sale. This may create more exposure for insurers/annuity writers in litigation relating to a producer’s alleged misconduct.

“49 and 1”

  • With the Proposal, New York further cements itself as a unique playing field for the life insurance industry.

  • The Proposal varies from the NAIC’s Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation, which applies a “best interest” standard to annuity sales. The Proposal applies to sales of both insurance and annuity products. The Proposal also defines “best interest” differently from the NAIC Model.

  • The Proposal is consistent with New York’s individual approach to other sensitive and complex regulatory issues, such as cybersecurity.

  • New York apparently continues to view itself as the nation’s leading consumer protection agency. In its press release announcing the Proposal, Governor Andrew Cuomo connects and compares the Proposal to the DOL fiduciary rule, stating: “As Washington continues to ignore and roll back efforts to protect Americans, New York will continue to use its role as strong regulator of the financial series and insurance industries to fight for consumers and help ensure a level playing field.”

©2018 Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Fred Reish, Partner, Drinker Biddle,  Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation
Partner

C. Frederick Reish is a partner in the firm's Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Practice Group, Chair of the Financial Services ERISA Team and Chair of the Retirement Income Team.  His practice focuses on fiduciary issues, prohibited transactions, tax-qualification and DOL, SEC and FINRA examinations of retirement plans and IRA issues.

Fred's experience includes advising insurance companies and investment managers of the development of products and services that are consistent with ERISA's...

(310) 203-4047
Bradford P. Campbell, ERISA attorney, Drinker Biddle, Law firm
Counsel

Bradford P. Campbell concentrates his practice in employee benefits and ERISA litigation, specializing in ERISA Title I issues, including fiduciary conduct and prohibited transactions.

A nationally-recognized figure in employer-sponsored retirement, health and other welfare benefit plans, Brad is the former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits and head of the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

As ERISA's former "top cop" and primary federal regulator, he provides his clients with insight and knowledge across a broad range of ERISA-plan related issues.  He also serves as an expert witness in ERISA litigation.  Brad was listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Persons in Defined Contribution by 401kWire in 2011. 

202-230-5159
Sandra Dawn Grannum, Finance, Securities, Drinker Biddle Law Firm
Partner

Sandra Dawn Grannum concentrates her practice on securities, broker/dealer arbitration, litigation, mediation and regulatory defense.

Sandy has tried complex multimillion-dollar arbitrations before FINRA, AAA and JAMS across the country. She has tried more than 50 arbitrations before the NASD and FINRA through award represented brokerage firms, banks, clearing firms, and associated persons. In addition, she has successfully pursued cases in state and federal courts and in adversarial proceedings before bankruptcy courts.

973-549-7015
Katherine Villanueva, litigation, attorney, Drinker Biddle
Associate

Kate Villanueva is an associate in Drinker Biddle’s insurance department, with experience representing clients in a variety of commercial disputes.  Kate has represented clients at the trial and appellate levels in state and federal courts nationwide. Kate has handled all aspects of civil litigation and has extensive appellate experience, including participating in appellate arguments and drafting numerous petitions for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

In addition to commercial litigation, Kate focuses her...

215-988-2535
H. Michael Byrne, Insurance Attorney, Drinker Biddle Law Firm
Partner

Michael Byrne is a partner specializing in insurance regulatory and transactional work within Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Corporate & Securities Practice Group.  Michael counsels U.S. and international insurers, captives and producers on a wide array of matters including structuring compliant business operations and practices, obtaining regulatory approvals, negotiating agreements and providing advice on complex and cutting edge issues. His recent matters involve advising on the NAIC’s risk management and ORSA initiative and recent amendments to the NAIC’s...

212-248-3182