One of President Donald Trump’s first moves after being inaugurated was to issue a directive to delay the implementation of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, originally set to go into effect April 10 for 180 days.
Many observers expect that the rule may be dumped or watered down enough to be meaningless. But that doesn’t mean that advisers should forget about the idea of becoming fiduciaries in their client relationships.
“The fiduciary issue is going to be put on a back burner, but it is not going away. It may not be something that your existing clients, especially affluent clients, are concerned about, but with any new client or prospect, offering them a fiduciary relationship by pulling out a document for you and the client to sign could have an impact,” says Matt Oechsli, founder and president of the Oechsli Institute, a research and adviser coaching company in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“Of course, you’d have to explain it to them saying, ‘If we sign this document it means we work for you, and we have to put your interests first,’” he says.
Amy Cady, managing director and investment officer at Cady-Sewell Wealth Management Group in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, says that her firm, in line with parent company Wells Fargo Advisors’ policy, operates on a fiduciary basis with some 80% of clients.
The firm doesn’t act as a fiduciary only if a client signs a best interests conflict exemption, something that was part of the planned DoL fiduciary regulation.
“And we’re trying to get the percentage of our clients signing those BICs down to 5% to 10%,” Cady says.
“I don’t like signing those agreements because they’re really not the kind of clients we want,” she says.
Not everyone agrees with this view.
Rick Rummage, president of The Rummage Group, a Herndon, Virginia-based adviser career counseling company, says that “95% of advisers already feel they’re doing best by their clients.”
But he advises against defining that fiduciary role in a signed document, saying, “It just opens you up to lawsuits by securities attorneys who will say something you did was not acting as a fiduciary.”
Rummage also says that any marketing advantage is exaggerated, “because clients come into a relationship with an adviser like people going into a marriage: They’re not expecting to get divorced.”
But Cady says that the future points to advisers being fiduciaries.
“Yes, it increases your risk to be a fiduciary, but if you aren’t willing to work in a fiduciary manner, it puts you out of business,” she says.
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