February 27, 2024

Bucks Blog: Delay in New Rules for Retirement Account Advisers

After receiving much criticism from the financial services industry and lawmakers, the Labor Department said Monday that it would rethink a proposed new rule requiring more investment professionals to take responsibility for the advice they provide to investors in retirement plans, including 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts.

“This extra time will enable us to strengthen the protections we already proposed and to do it in a way that is more straightforward and more clear,” said Phyllis Borzi, assistant secretary of the Employee Benefits Security Administration, who held a conference call with reporters on Monday. “There was a lot of misinformation about what our rule did and intended to do.”

The agency is trying to amend a 35-year-old rule, part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, known as Erisa, which defines when investment advisers become a fiduciary — that is, professionals who put their clients’ interests before their own. Under the current regulations, a person is deemed a fiduciary only if he or she meets a five-part test.

One part of the test states that the person must provide the advice on a regular basis. So if an employer with a 401(k) hires an adviser on a one-time basis for advice, the adviser doesn’t have to act as a fiduciary. The same goes for workers who are nearing retirement and thinking about purchasing an annuity with their I.R.A. or 401(k) savings, Ms. Borzi noted in her testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in July.

“The narrowness of the existing regulation opened the door to serious problems, and changes in the market since the regulation was issued in 1975 have allowed these problems to proliferate and intensify,” she said in her testimony, which also noted that 401(k) plans did not yet exist and I.R.A.’s had just been authorized when the rule was written.

The department’s original proposal broadened the definition of who is deemed a fiduciary. But critics of the proposal said that they were concerned because fiduciaries who operate under Erisa rules are subject to more onerous restrictions than other advisers who also act as fiduciaries.

“It was a very broad rule that lacked a great deal of definition and clarity that we believe had a number of unintended consequences,” said Ken Bentsen, executive vice president of public policy and advocacy at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group. He said that one of the industry’s concerns, for instance, was that brokerages would not be able to charge commissions on investments in I.R.A.’s. There were also concerns that brokers would be prohibited from engaging in principal trading, which occurs when a broker-dealer sells a customer securities from its own inventory.

“We believe the Labor Department has made the right decision by announcing they will re-propose their fiduciary definition rule change,” he added.

While many agree that the rule is well-intentioned, Democrats and Republicans in Congress, along with consumer advocates, had urged the Labor Department to reconsider the rule.

Ms. Borzi said during the call on Monday that her team had met with all of the stakeholders, including members of Congress, the financial services industry and consumer advocates. “Despite the fact that we’ve heard different things from different people, there is broad consensus that investment advisers should not be able to put their financial interests ahead of the people they serve,” she said.

She added that the new proposed rule — which could come as soon as January — would address the various concerns. The department is also coordinating with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is working on a fiduciary standard of its own as part of the Wall Street regulatory overhaul, so that the two sets of rules don’t conflict.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1a253c89aea05cba7ecdcd7855b1b12a

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