This is 77^{th} 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.
The DOL’s fiduciary regulation and the transition Best Interest Contract Exemption (BICE) first applied on June 9, 2017. In other words, the recommendations made by broker-dealers and RIAs, and their representatives, have been governed by those rules for more than six months. While the requirements of the fiduciary standard of care and transition BICE are fairly straightforward—at least for advisors who understand the fiduciary concept, I am hearing about misunderstandings of those requirements. Angles #76 was my first post about mistaken beliefs; this article continues that theme by examining whether the best interest standard mandates the selection of the “best investment.”
To focus on BICE, when an advisor gives conflicted advice to IRAs, plans or participants, the advisor must adhere to the Impartial Conduct Standards. In that case the advisor must:
Adhere to the best interest standard of care.
Receive no more than reasonable compensation.
Make no materially misleading statements.
The best interest standard of care is, in its essence, a combination of ERISA’s prudent man rule and duty of loyalty. More literally, BICE defines the best interest standard as:
Investment advice is in the ‘‘Best Interest’’ of the Retirement Investor when the Adviser and Financial Institution providing the advice act with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence under the circumstances then prevailing that a prudent person acting in a like capacity and familiar with such matters would use in the conduct of an enterprise of a like character and with like aims, based on the investment objectives, risk tolerance, financial circumstances, and needs of the Retirement Investor, without regard to the financial or other interests of the Adviser, Financial Institution or any Affiliate, Related Entity, or other party. (Emphasis added by me.)
While the full meaning of that language may not be obvious on its face, there is a substantial amount of guidance, through court cases and DOL opinions, about its meaning. It means, first and foremost, that an advisor must engage in a prudent process to develop a recommendation. And, the process must be done carefully and skillfully at the level of a person who is knowledgeable about the particular issues (for example, asset allocation, selection of investments, insurance products, etc.).
However, some people are saying that the best interest standard means that an advisor must recommend the best possible investment. That is incorrect. In fact, the DOL has specifically stated that, even if it were possible to select the best possible investment, that is not the requirement.
Instead, the requirement is that advisors act prudently when selecting investments . . . and prudence is defined by the quality of the process used by the advisor. So, for example, where an advisor uses reputable software to evaluate the investments and to develop an appropriate asset allocation, the use of that software would be part of a prudent process and would document that the advisor was complying with the rules.
Perhaps people are confusing the best interest standard with “best practice.” But, those are different things.
Having said that, there is certainly nothing wrong with an advisor doing more than is legally needed in an effort to prudently select investments.
The best interest standard—while more demanding than the suitability standard—is not as burdensome or difficult as some people believe. Instead, it requires a thoughtful and diligent process implemented by a knowledgeable advisor. Since these rules are designed to protect retirement money, that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable standard.
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 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 22-Banks and Prohibited Transactions: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #22
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 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 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 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 47- “Real” Requirements of Fiduciary Rule: Interesting Angles on DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #47
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 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 58- Recommendations to Contribute to a Plan or IRA- Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #58
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 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 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 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 83 - Part 2 of Undisclosed (and Disclosed) 12b-1 Fees: Interesting Angles on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule #83
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