Advisers react to DOL final fiduciary rule
The Department of Labor Wednesday released its final fiduciary rule, which many employee benefit adviser firms and industry insiders across the country say could affect some adviser business models, but will likely have little impact on the work their firms produce. The complete impact of the rule remains to be seen, they agree.
“As an independent fiduciary adviser specializing in retirement plans, we believe the fiduciary rule will have very little impact on our business and service offering,” says Alex Assaley, managing principal of AFS 401(k). “Ultimately, we made the conscious decision many years ago to act in a fiduciary capacity because we truly believe it is important for employers and employees to receive objective and unbiased counsel for their retirement plan.”
With that in mind, he says, “I do understand the different business and compensation models in the industry today and believe many advisers and brokers will be significantly impacted by this rule. However, in reviewing the final regulation’s highlights, I think the DOL has worked very closely with many industry practitioners in an effort to construct a workable rule that best serves working Americans while also recognizing the importance of advisers and service providers in creating successful retirement plans.”
Namely, Assaley adds, “I commend the work that the National Association of Plan Advisers has done in providing guidance and opinion to the DOL and White House and think some specifics of the final regulations, such as the exemption of education and an implementation date of January 1, 2018 will allow for this sweeping regulation to be effectively implemented by the industry, and ultimately believe this will lead to a stronger private retirement system.”
“As an independent fiduciary adviser specializing in retirement plans, we believe the fiduciary rule will have very little impact on our business and service offering."
Amy Evans, president of Colibri Insurance Services, and Tanya Boyd, president of Tanya Boyd and Associates, say they do not expect the DOL’s rule to affect their firms in any major capacity.
The ERISA Industry Committee says it is pleased with the finalized fiduciary rule, but remains skeptical about whether plan sponsors will incur additional costs or hurdles to provide retirement products.
ERIC submitted comments to the DOL requesting changes to the proposed rule to assist large employers in being able to educate their employees on retirement plan investments.
“ERIC is pleased that the Department of Labor adopted a number of our requests to ensure plan sponsors could continue to provide effective education materials on the importance of retirement savings and protect employees from being deemed a fiduciary who merely discusses the investment options with other employees,” says Will Hansen, senior vice president of Retirement Policy, ERIC. “What remains to be seen is how the financial industry will respond to this new rule and whether it will negatively impact the ability to obtain advice or increase the cost of such advice. What is clear is that all interested parties in the retirement system are hopeful the rule will strengthen access to a secure retirement for Americans.”
James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, says, “The final rule includes a number of revisions we requested that employers will appreciate, such as grandfathering past advice and recognizing that valuations are not fiduciary acts. We also are pleased that, as we recommended, the definition is not applicable to health and welfare plans where assets are not held in trust, although some details of this exemption are left unclear.”
“The bifurcated effective date of April 2017 and January 2018 is a helpful step,” he adds. “But given the number of open issues and need for further refinements we remain concerned that this will not be sufficient to implement the rules because so many operational processes, materials and agreements are affected.”
“The best interest of the consumer should remain the top priority for advisers and HR professionals alike, and it appears that this ruling is aiming to do just that – protect the consumer,” says Jeff Oldham, VP, Benefitstore, at Benefitfocus. But he adds that the additional time and financial resources required by the ruling “could have a negative impact on the industry if not handled with care.” Only time will tell, he says, “if these were resources well-spent, and what kind of benefit consumers will see in the long run.”