The Department of Labor’s fiduciary duty rule – proposed under the Obama administration – was thought to be dead on arrival when Donald Trump was elected president.
The Obama administration over several years created the rule because it claimed that conflicted financial advice costs American families $17 billion a year and pushes down annual returns on retirement savings by a percentage point. The financial services industry on the other hand claims the rule drives up expenses and leaves brokerage firms open to investor lawsuits.
The rule has a simple, common sense objective and that is, to banish conflicts of interest. Under the rule, which is to take effect on June 9, Wall Street financial advisors must put their clients’ interests first when working with retirement accounts.
Rather than peddling the highest fee products – think variable annuities and nontraded real estate investment trusts – on unsuspecting customers, firms would be required to assess whether the product is in the best interest of the customer. If it is not in the client’s best interest, the advisor would need to find an alternative product. Moreover, disclosure of conflicts of interest and benefits to the financial advisor would be required.
After last November’s election, a torrent of lobbyists from Wall Street descended upon the Trump administration, seeking to kill the rule before it was implemented. Critics of the rule, including many financial industry leaders, have said the Obama figures of billions of dollars in annual losses are inflated. The critics contend that the rule would punish smaller savers in the form of less access to financial advice and heftier fees for those who trade infrequently.
Despite the intense lobbying, President Trump’s new labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, remarkably decided that the rule could go into effect on June 9, but could be subject to challenge later. The financial services industry, which gives lip service to putting clients first, is working furiously behind the scenes in a last-ditch effort to kill parts of the rule.
“We have carefully considered the record in this case,” Mr. Acosta wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, “and have found no principled legal basis to change the June 9 date while we seek public input.” He said “respect for the rule of law leads us to the conclusion that this date cannot be postponed.”
The rule takes only partial effect on June 9. Brokers and insurance agents don’t need to comply with certain parts of the regulation until Jan. 1, 2018.
Unfortunately, Mr. Acosta left the door open for repeal or revision after the Labor Department completes its economic review. “Although courts have upheld this rule as consistent with Congress’s delegated authority, the Fiduciary Rule as written may not align with President Trump’s deregulatory goals,” he said.
Investors aren’t asking for the sun, moon and the stars. This is fundamental stuff. Investors deserve for the fiduciary rule to live now and forever!
Zamansky LLC are investment and stock fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation and arbitration against financial institutions.