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

This is 30th article about interesting observations concerning the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and exemptions. These articles also cover the DOL’s FAQs interpreting the regulation and exemptions.

The DOL’s use of the phrase “Level Fee Fiduciary” is creating a lot of confusion about the application of the new fiduciary regulation and the Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE). This article, and the next one, will try to dispel some of that confusion.

The label “Level Fee Fiduciary” has been used for many years for one meaning, but BICE has used it for a different purpose and, depending on your reading, a different definition.

Historically, Level Fee Fiduciary referred to a fiduciary adviser whose compensation was level or, at least, levelized. What’s the different between level and levelized? “Level” refers to an adviser who has a stated fee, for example, 1% per year, and does not receive any other payments. “Levelized” refers to a fiduciary adviser who has a stated fee (e.g., 1%), but who receives payments from third parties as a result of the recommendations — and then levelizes those payments by offsetting them dollar-for-dollar against the 1% fee. In both of those cases, the advisers receive no more, nor any less, than the 1%. Based on two DOL advisory opinions, the offset method works to, in effect, create a level fee. (An alternative method of levelizing is to pay the third party amounts into the plan or IRA; to be safe, that should be mandated in the agreement with the retirement investor.)

The advisers are not committing a prohibited transaction in either of these cases. As a result, the advisers do not need an exemption, or exception, from a prohibited transaction.

BICE then used “Level Fee Fiduciary” in a different setting. In BICE — a prohibited transaction exemption, the rule only applies to three scenarios. Those are: (1) a recommendation to take a distribution from a plan and roll over to an IRA with the adviser; (2) a recommendation to transfer an IRA to the adviser; and (3) a recommendation to switch “qualified money” from a commission-based account to a fee-based account. Each of those three recommendations will result in a prohibited transaction if the adviser receives more compensation if the retirement investor accepts the recommendation. Needless to say, an adviser will almost always make more money (with the possible exception of the case where the adviser is charging the same fee in the IRA as the adviser charged for services to the plan).

For the BICE provisions on these three scenarios (which is sometimes referred to as BICE-lite), the definition of “Level Fee Fiduciary” is:

“A Financial Institution and Adviser are ‘Level Fee Fiduciaries’ if the only fee received by the Financial Institution, the Adviser and any Affiliate in connection with advisory or investment management services to the Plan or IRA assets is a Level Fee that is disclosed in advance to the Retirement Investor. A ‘Level Fee’ is a fee or compensation that is provided on the basis of a fixed percentage of the value of the assets or a set fee that does not vary with the particular investment recommended, rather than a commission or other transaction-based fee.”

In and of itself, that definition could either mean (1) that no other payments can be received by the adviser, or (2) that the adviser could receive other payments so long as they were not on top of, or in addition to, the stated fee (that is, it would be permissible if the additional payments were offset dollar-for-dollar, such that they did not increase the fee). Unfortunately, at least one senior DOL official has said that the Department intended for the language to mean that no additional payments could be received regardless of whether they were offset or not. Keep in mind, though, that the statement of individual DOL employees are not considered to be legal authority.

The third use of the concept of Level Fee Fiduciary is in the Pension Protection Act “level fee” exemption. That involves an entirely different situation. In that case, if the conditions of the exemption are satisfied, an organization can commit a prohibited transaction, so long as the advice is provided by a separate unit that receives only level fee compensation for providing the advice. For example, that separate unit could recommend proprietary funds to IRAs and participants, without violating the law.

So, those are the three scenarios in which an adviser could be labeled as a Level Fee Fiduciary. But, the definitions, the requirements for compliance and the compensation considerations are different for each of the scenarios.

Hopefully, that clarifies the meaning. In my next post, I will talk about the forms of compensation that would cause an adviser’s level fee to become “un-levelized.”

The views expressed in this article are the views of Fred Reish, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Drinker Biddle & Reath.

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 on DOL’s Fiduciary #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: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #24

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: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 71- Recordkeepers and Financial Wellness Programs: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #71

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

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

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

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

Part 76 - Discretionary Management of IRAs: Prohibited Transaction Issues for RIAs- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #76

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 84- What Does the 5th Circuit Decision Mean for Rollover Recommendations?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #84

Part 85 -The Fiduciary Rule: What’s Next (Part 1)? : Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #85

Part 86- The Fiduciary Rule: What’s Next (Part 2)?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #86

Part 87 - The Fiduciary Rule: What’s Next (Part 3)?: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #87

Part 88 -The Fiduciary Rule: What’s Next (Part 4)? : Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #88

Part 89 - The 5th Circuit Decision, Prohibited Transactions, and New Non-Enforcement Policies: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #89

Part 90 - Parallels Between the SEC Regulation Best Interest and the DOL Best Interest Contract Exemption (Part 1): Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #90

Part 91- Parallels Between the SEC Regulation Best Interest and the DOL Best Interest Contract Exemption (Part 2): Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #91

Part 92 - SEC Proposed Reg BI and Recommendations of Rollovers (Part 1): Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #92

Part 93 - SEC Proposed Reg BI and Recommendations of Rollovers (Part 2): Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #93

Part 94 - SEC Proposed Reg BI and Recommendations of Rollovers (Part 3) : Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #94

Part 95 - Regulation Best Interest Recommendations by Broker-Dealers: Part 1- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #95

Part 96 - Regulation Best Interest Recommendations by Broker-Dealers: Part 2- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #96

Part 97 – Regulation Best Interest Recommendations by Broker-Dealers: Part 3 - Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #97

Part 98 – Regulation Best Interest: Consideration of Cost and Compensation- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #98

Part 99 – Investment Advisers and the SEC's Interpretation of Their Duties: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #99

Part 100 - Investment Advisers and the SEC’s Interpretation of Their Duties: Part II- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #100

 

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About this Author

Fred Reish, 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