It is my belief that honesty is always the best policy. Given that, I am happy to pass along some recent news from the world of finance that helps to tilt things in your favor.
This past Friday, the long-awaited Department of Labor “fiduciary duty” rule finally sprang to life. Despite the Trump administration’s immediate executive order to delay the Obama-era rule (a move with the likely aim to later squash it entirely), the wait is over.
In a nutshell, essentially all financial advisers must now place your interests above their own.
While it may sound like a common sense requirement, you’d be surprised at how pitched the battle has been to impose a robust and uniform fiduciary duty standard across the entire investment industry.
As a result of the new rule, all advisers who choose to provide advice on retirement plans, such as 401(k) accounts and, more expansively, all IRA accounts, now legally owe their clients a duty of good faith, honesty and trustworthy conduct.
It should be noted that this fiduciary duty certainly isn’t new to all types of financial advisers. Registered investment advisers who are strictly compensated on a fee-only basis have always operated as legal fiduciaries to their clients.
However, for professionals who sell financial products on a commissioned basis, such as annuities, insurance or some mutual funds, the new code of conduct now applies. Life just got a big tougher for them and a bit easier for the public.
As a key part of this new, uniform fiduciary duty rule, financial professionals must now operate by what’s known as an “Impartial Conduct Standard.” This standard has three parts that deserve mention.
First, financial advisers must now provide advice that reflects their clients’ personal circumstances, is prudent in its implementation and consistently reflects their underlying duty of loyalty to their clients. As part of their duty of loyalty, any advice they provide must also openly disclose any professional conflicts of interest that might exist.
Next, advisers must receive no more than “reasonable compensation” for the services they provide. Despite the clearly subjective nature of the word, reasonable, in my opinion its inclusion helps to impose a healthy gut-check on overall fee levels in our industry. This is a very good development, especially in a relationship where technical knowledge is so clearly in the hands of the professional.
Finally, to fulfill their duty, financial advisers must also avoid making misleading statements to their clients. While this is obviously a base-level expectation of all clients, it spotlights honesty as the cornerstone of any client-adviser relationship. After all, acting with professional integrity is essentially what it means to have a fiduciary duty.
Unsurprisingly, it likely took many hundreds of pages of government rule-making to codify what we’ve always known; honesty is the best policy. Nevertheless, I am quite pleased it is now the law of the land for many more financial professionals. The public will be better served as a result.