Friday, June 9 quietly marked a historic day in the financial services world. Last Friday, the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule came in to effect requiring all financial advisors to forego any sales agenda and give advice that would benefit their clients or customers or, if they decide otherwise, they must explain how and why they intend to give advice that instead primarily benefits themselves and their brokerage company. This rule only pertains to rollovers from a qualified plan like a 401(k) into an IRA, and to the investment recommendations for that IRA account. But it may be a first step toward something larger.
The polls consistently show that most Americans believe they already receive objective advice—called “fiduciary” advice by the profession and regulators. But the overwhelming odds are that they don’t. There are half a million brokers who earn commissions if they can convince you to buy an expensive alternative to the thriftier, better-performing investment options on the market. That’s more than ten times the number of advisors who adhere to a fiduciary standard. Government research estimates that consumers lost $17 billion a year to conflicted advice in the recommendations made by brokers and sales agents posing as advisors related to retirement plans. This, to put it bluntly, helps explain why so many Wall Street brokers are insulted if their annual bonus is in the low seven figures.
An article in Bloomberg recently outlined some of the ways that you can be taken in by a sales pitch and never know it. (The full article can be found here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-06-07/fiduciary-rule-fight-brews-while-bad-financial-advisers-multiply). It notes that the brokerage industry—that is, the larger Wall Street firms, independent broker-dealer organizations and life insurance organizations—repeatedly fought the fiduciary rule in court, arguing, in some cases, that their brokers and insurance agents shouldn’t be held to this standard because, despite what they said or what the companies’ marketing materials proclaimed, they were nothing more than salespeople trying to effect a sale. The courts refused to block the rule.
We don’t know how long this regulation will be in effect. New Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has announced that he’s studying whether the rule that requires brokers to act in the best interests of their customers is good or bad for customers, and his comments hint that he thinks you would be harmed if suddenly you were able to trust the advice you receive. But there is one simple way to determine whether you’re working with somebody you can trust.
First, ask your advisor directly to provide written documentation that he or she will act in your best interests. This should be no longer than a page and might be no longer than a sentence or two. There’s even a “Fiduciary Oath” that many financial advisors are giving to their clients—without any prompting. If the broker hems and haws, chances are any recommendations you receive are going to cost you money that will be disclosed in the fine print of whatever agreement you sign.
We, at Kendall Capital, believe the DOL Fiduciary Rule is a positive step in the right direction for the financial services industry. We have been fiduciary since our inception in 2005 and firmly believe that all investment advisors should adhere to the fiduciary standard in order to provide the investor with the best financial outlook free from outside influences. If you are interested in finding out more about the fiduciary services we offer, please give us a call today.