Investment Industry Waits For Trump’s Stance On Fiduciary Rule

By Reina Ilagan

Dec 14, 2016 10:56 AM EST

Earlier this year, the Department of Labor passed a rule that will impose a fiduciary duty on all advisors to retirement accounts. Broker-dealers and financial advisors will be required to provide proper advice that will be in the best interest of the clients. The rule is set to take effect on April 10, 2017.

While some firms have already started to overhaul their models in order to comply to the regulation, experts in the financial services industry are uncertain about the intention of President-elect Donald Trump and the incoming Congress regarding the fiduciary rule.

As the investment brokerage industry hopes that Mr. Trump will scrap the rule, many firms and financial advisors want the new Secretary of Labor to delay or rewrite the rule. They also hope that the Justice Department will not defend it against litigation.

"To this point, litigation has been the only hope to stop the DOL rule, but now there are additional avenues to [achieve that]," said David Bellaire, the Financial Services Institute's executive vice president and general counsel.

The said organization was among the business groups in a coalition that filed suit in a Texas court to stop the DOL rule.

"I'm more optimistic now than I was before the election. The first step is to repeal the existing rule," he added.

Although his organization supports a universal fiduciary duty for all investment advisors and accounts, he believes that the DOL is not the right body to draft the rules. Instead, he said that the Securities and Exchange Commission is the right entity to make the regulation.

With the uncertainty in the investment industry, many firms are faced with difficult choices. Although many would prefer not to change their business models, they have to adopt marketing strategies that will emphasize their fiduciary posture. This requires them to invest large sums to do that.

"If there is no obligation to change, it's hard for firms to justify making costly changes," said Blaine Aikin, executive chairman of consultant fi360 and an expert on fiduciary issues.

However, he also noted that firms could end up disappointed if they would rely on the rule being repealed. "It's a risky course of action to do nothing. There could be repercussions in the marketplace and with regulators," he added.

On the other hand, there are also major supporters of the DOL's fiduciary rule.

"A lot of major firms have spent millions to comply with the rule and have incorporated their strategies into their marketing messages. They may want to take the higher ground on this," said Karen Nystrom, director of advocacy for the Financial Planning Association.

Based on the surveys conducted in the past, the average Americans do not understand the fiduciary concept, as they generally assume that the financial advisors are always acting in the client's best interest. Recently, the number of Americans trying to understand the issue has increased, especially among the investing public.

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