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Ex-SEC Chief: White House Memo on Broker-Dealers 'Shocking'

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A leaked White House memo supporting a fiduciary definition for brokers selling retirement investments proposed by the Department of Labor was "pretty shocking," according to former SEC chairwoman Mary Schapiro.

But in a discussion of industry issues at the NICSA Strategic Leadership Forum, Schapiro said that there was no clarity as to how the regulator would handle the proposal.

"It’s a muddled mess," Schapiro said.

The memo, which was first reported by The Hill, states that there was evidence that "the current regulatory environment creates perverse incentives that ultimately cost savers billions of dollars a year." The memo is in support of a proposed fiduciary definition for professionals selling retirement investments to 401(k) beneficiaries under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Schapiro said it is difficult to understand how the proposal will ultimately be received by the SEC, as it has its supporters and detractors within the commission. "The issue is politically difficult within SEC," she said.

Those who do not see any benefit for the proposal note that broker-dealers are already subject to more stringent regulation and scrutiny than financial advisors, Schapiro said.

She added that if the SEC does throw its support behind the proposal, it might cause SIFMA to walk away from its support of a fiduciary standard.

SIFMA believes the DOL proposal "is an overbroad expansion of the fiduciary standard," but it does support a uniform fiduciary standard.

Raymond James Financial CEO Paul Reilly is among the industry executives against the proposal, calling it in a recent email to employees "an example of biased and distorted research (that) impugns the integrity of the work our advisors do every day to help clients achieve their financial goals."

Schapiro said the goal in helping investors gain a better understanding of their investment options was valid. "We have to make things easier for investors one way or another," she said, but predicted more debate before any resolution on the fiduciary standard matter.

"It's completely unclear where it will go, but it will continue to be a fight," she said.

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