By Monique Morrissey, Economic Policy Institute
Following a directive from President Trump, the Labor Department has proposed a two-month delay in implementing an Obama administration rule requiring financial professionals to act in clients’ best interests when recommending investment products or strategies to people saving for retirement (known as the “fiduciary rule”). Under the proposed extension, the rule would take effect June 9 rather than April 10. The public has 15 days to submit comments on the delay.
The rule was six years in the making and has survived three court challenges backed by the financial services industry, which stands to lose an estimated $17 billion a year from ending predatory practices by brokers and other financial professionals passing themselves off as disinterested advisors. It incorporates input from four days of public hearings, over 3000 public comment letters, and more than 100 stakeholder meetings.
Unbeknownst to most people, it is currently legal for financial professionals to recommend higher-cost investment products or rollovers from 401(k)s to higher-cost IRAs when similar but lower-cost options are available, without disclosing that they are working on commission rather than making recommendations that are in their clients’ interest.
The fiduciary rule requires all financial professionals advising retirement plan sponsors and participants to adhere to the same fiduciary standard adhered to by registered investment advisors. The law generally prohibits anyone offering investment advice to retirement plan participants from working on commission (as opposed to charging an hourly or flat fee), with exemptions for advice that is in the best interest of clients and meets strict disclosure and other requirements.
The administration said the delay would give it time to determine whether the rule “may adversely affect the ability of Americans to gain access to retirement information and financial advice.” The answer is simple and does not require further study. The rule, by design, will prevent people from receiving conflicted advice, that is to say, bad advice, but will not adversely affect retirement savers. The delay is simply an attempt by the Trump administration, which is packed with Wall Street alumni, to enable financial firms to continue to pick savers’ pockets.