April 24, 2018

April 24, 2018

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April 23, 2018

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Part 2 of Undisclosed (and Disclosed) 12b-1 Fees: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #83

This is my 83rd 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.

In last week’s post (Angles #82) I discussed the fiduciary and prohibited transaction rules that should be considered in light of the SEC’s “Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative” (“SCSDI”). As a refresher, the SCSD Initiative is a self-correction and self-reporting program where RIAs can identify, correct and report failures to adequately disclose the receipt of 12b-1 fees in addition to their advisory fees. My article discussed the consequences under the DOL’s guidance for the receipt of 12b-1 fees—on top of advisory fees—for both non-discretionary investment advice and discretionary investment management, where the results are quite different.

This article builds on that. The topics for this article:

  • When will, or could, a recommendation of a higher-cost share class (and, therefore, a more expensive investment) satisfy the best interest standard of care (that is, the prudent person rule and the duty of loyalty)?
  • What kind of disclosure of 12b-1 fees would be adequate under the fiduciary rule?

Let’s look at each of those issues.

When will, or could, a recommendation of a higher-cost share class (and, therefore, a more expensive investment) satisfy the best interest standard of care (that is, the prudent person rule and the duty of loyalty)?

As a general principle, a fiduciary adviser should not recommend or select investments that are more expensive than reasonable and necessary. That is one of the considerations under the prudent man rule and under the duty of loyalty. On the other hand, investment advisers are entitled to receive reasonable compensation for their services.

A fiduciary adviser could recommend mutual funds that pay 12b-1 fees as long as the total compensation to the adviser and the firm does not exceed a reasonable amount and as long as the cost of the investment (e.g., expense ratio) is not unreasonably high. (This assumes that there is adequate disclosure of the 12b-1 fees.) So, for example, if an adviser recommends a mutual fund that has a 1% expense ratio, and 25 basis points is paid as 12b-1 fees, the reasonableness of the cost for the mutual fund should be the net expense ratio, or .75%. The adviser needs to determine whether that cost is appropriate and reasonable for the particular qualified account.

On the other hand, if the payment of the 12b-1 fee to the adviser’s firm—when added to the advisory fee—results in excess (or “unreasonable”) compensation for the services, the compensation would not be justifiable and it could mean that the cost (or expense ratio) of the mutual fund was unreasonably expensive (since the cost of the 12b-1 fee was not justified). The former is a prohibited transaction and the latter is a fiduciary breach.

In a nutshell, the prudent man rule and duty of loyalty require an evaluation of the cost of the investment (e.g., mutual fund). However, that analysis is connected at the hip to the reasonableness of the adviser’s compensation.

What kind of disclosure of 12b-1 fees would be adequate under the fiduciary rule?

While the Department of Labor (“DOL”) hasn’t issued any specific guidance on this subject, it has issued guidance about disclosures of compensation in other situations. For example, the DOL’s 408(b)(2) regulation requires that service providers disclose their compensation to plan fiduciaries. While 408(b)(2) applies only to compensation for plan services, it may help understand the expectations for other fee disclosures under the fiduciary rule.

Simply stated, the 408(b)(2) guidance is that the retirement plan fiduciaries must be provided with adequate information to make two determinations. Those are:

  • Whether the compensation of an adviser and the firm is reasonable relative to the services provided.
  • Whether, and to what extent, an adviser and the firm have conflicts of interest.

With that understanding, it seems reasonable to think that the expectation of the fiduciary rule is that the disclosures would enable an investor to calculate a relatively accurate estimate of the compensation paid. For example, it would be risky to say that the adviser or his firm “may” receive 12b-1 fees. The question is, would a reasonable person be able to approximate the total compensation based on that information. Another example would be where the disclosure is that the firm will, in addition to the advisory fee, receive 12b-1 fees in the range of -0-% to 1.00%. Again, the issue is whether the investor can reasonably calculate the total compensation when provided with that information.

A significant risk is that, where the disclosures are inadequate, the adviser and the firm are receiving compensation that was not approved—and that the DOL and IRS would take the position that the payment was a prohibited transaction.

These rules—and particularly, the prohibited transaction rules—are complex and, if not understood, can result in significant problems.

However, once understood—and with appropriate disclosures and agreements—compliance is not conceptually difficult.

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)

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

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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