As the Department of Labor (DOL) has redefined “investment advice,” they have undoubtedly accelerated the evolution of what it means to be a fiduciary. Regulators are but one of the three key influencers shaping best practices for new fiduciaries. Financial institutions are working aggressively to comply with the DOL’s new rule; however, advisors can take actionable steps today to better identify the needs and best interests of retirement plan participants and IRA holders.
Influencer 1 – The Markets
The markets are an often overlooked key influencer. The current slow growth, low interest rate, long-term economic outlook creates new challenges for savers that were not a concern for the last generation of retirees. Fortunately, there has been an increased focus on savings as study after study finds that we need to save more for retirement than in previous years. Unfortunately, savings is only a part of the solution.
The Fiduciary Rule puts a specific emphasis on the damage done by investor behaviors and encourages new fiduciaries to pay particular attention to each investor’s unique risk tolerances and reactions to the markets as well as the investor’s long-term savings goals. In today’s market, where volatility is a “new normal,” it becomes critical for fiduciaries to frame investment due diligence and portfolio performance around the investor’s objectives rather than a hypothetical benchmark.
Influencer 2 – The Regulators
In the DOL’s own words1, the new rule will, “mitigate adviser conflicts and thereby improve plan and IRA investment results, while avoiding greater than necessary disruption of existing business practices.” However, certain compensation arrangements are viewed with heightened skepticism. In particular, the DOL application of ERISA’s self dealing prohibited transaction to all ERISA plans and IRA accounts will cause significant disruption to traditional brokerage models.
As the DOL encourages more level, transparent fee structures, fiduciaries must shift their focus to offering a service rather than selling an investment product. The value of the fiduciary’s services is based on the need of the investor.
Influencer 3 – The Litigators
ERISA class action litigation dates back to 1998 as an outgrowth of securities and class actions. Since that time, the volume and scope of the litigation has ballooned, especially when the stock market drops.
Recent 401(k) litigation demonstrates that no fiduciary decision is insignificant. IRA advisors are paying increasing attention to recent 401(k) fee litigation because of the DOL’s Best Interest Contract Exemption and the possibility of class action lawsuits.
With the new DOL Rule, advisors need to view each plan decision independently and have a repeatable and documented process for each. All processes should be designed to identify the needs of plan participants or the IRA holder and then make a recommendation based on that need. Each step of the process and the resulting recommendation should be documented with reasons given as to why the decision is in the best interest of the client.
To learn more about the three key influencers shaping fiduciary best practices and more on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule, visit www.manning-napier.com/EvolutionaryFiduciary.