Executive Order Halts Implementation of DOL Fiduciary Rule

Early this afternoon (Friday, February 03, 2017), President Trump signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Labor (DOL) to halt implementation of final regulations relating to “investment advice fiduciaries,” as defined under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code.

The Order directs the DOL to reevaluate the regulations and to report back to the President. The regulations, collectively known as the “Fiduciary Rule,” had been set to take initial effect on April 10, 2017.  The Fiduciary Rule’s effective date is now expected to be at least delayed, if not also altered or withdrawn.

The purpose of the Fiduciary Rule, which has been over six years in the making, is to impose a fiduciary standard on individuals and companies receiving compensation for retirement investment advice, including brokers and insurance agents who are currently held to a lesser standard dating to 1975.

The rule would also have required brokers to clearly and prominently disclose any conflicts of interest, like hidden fees or other undisclosed commission payments often buried in the fine print.

A 2015 government study concluded that retirement plan savers lose $17 billion, in the aggregate, each year due to receiving conflicted investment advice that reduces the value of their retirement accounts.

The Trump Administration, on the other hand, takes the view that the DOL rule is unnecessary. The White House Press Secretary called the DOL Fiduciary Rule “a solution in search of a problem,” and as protecting consumers “from something they don’t need protection from.” This view reflects the perspective of those who regard the Fiduciary Rule as an unneeded limit upon investor options and its implementation as a burden upon asset management firms.

Industry spokespersons, as well as politicians with competing views are certain to continue to engage in lively debate regarding the future of the Fiduciary Rule.

While such a discussion has been ongoing over recent years, financial advisors and brokers have steadily worked to update their compensation methods to provide greater transparency to retirement plan savers. For this reason, it is not clear that even the elimination of the Fiduciary Rule would reverse the market trend of providing greater clarity regarding the fees and costs of investing.

We will continue to monitor relevant developments.