With deregulation seemingly high on the agenda for President-elect Donald Trump, the fate of the Department of Labor’s “fiduciary rule” is now unclear. The rule became effective in April 2016, and the first round of compliance is due to start in April 2017.
The rule expands the definition of who qualifies as a fiduciary under ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) to include financial advisors and other professionals who provide investment advice to individual retirement accounts and ERISA plans outside of the institutional market. While financial advisors have been held to a “suitability” standard, the new rule requires them to not only meet ERISA’s broader “best interest” standard but also comply with ERISA’s broad anti-conflict rules; these would effectively prohibit a financial advisor from selling any product unless the sale meets the many conditions for exemption.
The fiduciary rule was designed, in part, to mitigate certain perceived potential conflicts of interest that the Department of Labor claimed could lead to overcharging for “advice” related to retirement assets. Banks and brokerage firms have to bear the costs of compliance and the litigation risk.
While it is unclear what action will be pursued, many expect that addressing the DOL rule will be a priority for the Trump administration in 2017 – especially given that Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, has been a vocal opponent of regulation in general.