Is Your Retirement Advisor a Fiduciary?
The upcoming and long anticipated proposed rules by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) exposes that very debate, as it seeks to eliminate the ability of financial advisors to profit by selling retirement account products to investors without being held to a “fiduciary standard.”
For those wondering what that means, with a fiduciary standard an advisor must always act in your (their client’s) best interests. A fiduciary standard ensures that the advisor’s duty is to the client only, not the corporation they represent. To the surprise of many, that currently is not always the case. Financial advisors have had the ability to profit (through commissions and high fees) to the potential detriment of their clients. That is exactly what many large financial institutions and insurance companies have done. In fact, the federal government estimates that there are roughly $17 billion dollars of fees generated each year from conflicted advice.
The DOL has made clear –and we agree– that a commission based investment model creates a conflict of interest. Companies with a commission based model operate with an inherent conflict: the pressure to sell products that are more profitable for them and/or their firm can be important factors in how they direct you to invest. For example, an advisor may receive a 5% commission by selling you a fund through their company when you could get a similar product elsewhere without commission. Think of it this way: would you want to work with an accountant who also gets commissions from the IRS? Of course not. You want your accountant to represent your best interests. Would you go to a doctor who makes money each time he prescribes penicillin? No, you want your doctor to prescribe what is right for you. That is the primary reason we stay completely independent and operate as conflict-free, fee-only advisors.
The proposed DOL rule will hopefully begin to fix this issue as it is expected to require a strict fiduciary standard for financial advisors in the context of sales for retirement account products. This standard will require advisors to certify that they are acting independently and in their client’s best interest, and are not motivated by the prospect of a commission. This has created a firestorm among big insurance companies, broker dealers and other institutional investors who, as we pointed out, don’t typically operate as fiduciaries.
In a letter sent last week to the SEC, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a strong proponent of the proposed DOL rule, pointed out that presidents of Transamerica, Lincoln National, Jackson National and Prudential all have called this proposal “unworkable.” She commented on the self interest in their position, and the danger in permitting unwitting investors to be guided by non-fiduciaries in the context of their retirement investments.
Why would a rule that requires a financial advisor to act in their client’s best interest create such an uproar? One reason is that unlike Sherman Wealth Management, they are in a commission driven model, and therefore fear that the way they currently serve clients would not meet the standards of this new rule. We hope that because of the conflict a commission driven model creates, that eventually enough pressure from policy-makers like Senator Warren and Labor Secretary Perez will propel this proposed new rule beyond just retirement accounts. In the meantime, think to yourself why anyone would oppose this rule if not for purely selfish reasons?
This article was originally published on Shermanwealth.com