President Obama recently offered a proposal that would raise investment advice standards for brokers working with retirement accounts. The President directed the Department of Labor – DOL – to move ahead with a rule that would extend the definition of “fiduciary” to more advisers of 401(k) and individual retirement accounts.
Put simply, a broker working under the fiduciary standard would have to put his clients’ interest before his own. As this blog has noted in the past, the current standard for brokers is the “suitability” standard. That is far less rigorous and gives plenty of legal room for brokers and securities houses for which they work to sell expensive, risky products such as variable annuities and REITs.
Unfortunately for investors, Wall Street doesn’t want the change to the fiduciary standard to occur. Securities fraud attorneys are keeping an eye on the Street and its tactics to defeat proponents of the new fiduciary standard.
The Lords of Wall Street fear that such a standard would increase costs, create legal liabilities and erode the stable, fat fees that such retirement accounts kick off each year. Indeed, the biggest financial services firms on the Street are all aggressively chasing such accounts because, as the Baby Boomers get older, it’s where the action is.
Wall Street has enlisted the help of two powerful Republican lawmakers to join the effort to block the fiduciary standard and possibly kill the DOL proposal that would raise investment-advice standards for brokers who handle such retirement accounts, according to a report by Mark Schoeff of InvestmentNews.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., told the Obama administration in a letter last week that the DOL should not act on its rule until the Securities and Exchange Commission releases its proposal.
Fat chance. There’s almost no likelihood of the SEC moving on the fiduciary standard.
The SEC was given authority under the 2010 Dodd Frank law to pass the fiduciary duty rule but no proposal has seen the light of day. It is widely acknowledged among advocates for Mom and Pop investors that the SEC has been MIA – missing in action – on the fiduciary standard.
As Schoeff noted in his report: “Supporters of the DOL rule say waiting for the SEC to act could effectively kill the DOL effort, as the SEC might never move on its rule.”
In other words, Wall Street’s puppets in Congress are playing a delay game and are attempting to defeat the Obama administration in its efforts to protect investors’ retirement accounts by putting the burden on the SEC, which has proven feeble in this arena.
Wall Street essentially fears the law could force it to put customers’ interests first. If the Street can delay the DOL bill until the heat of the 2016 election season is upon us, the fiduciary duty rule is likely to become a casualty.
Pity the investors who are in the crosshairs of Wall Street snipers.