Webster’s dictionary defines "fiduciary" as:
adjective: "relating to or involving trust (such as between a customer and a professional)"
noun: "one that holds a fiduciary relation or acts in a fiduciary capacity"
I mention this because after literally years of effort, stops and starts, lobbying, delays, and controversy, the Department of Labor (DOL) has released its proposed Conflict of Interest Rule--Investment Advice a.k.a. the “Fiduciary Rule.”
While this has been much anticipated in the financial services community and by advocates for retirement security, it has been greeted in the rest of the country with, well, mostly silence. Most people probably haven’t heard about it, but it matters.
Here’s the 60-second, 30,000-foot explanation of what it is, and why it is important.
The DOL and the Internal Revenue Service share responsibility for making rules related to tax preferred retirement vehicles, including both individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and workplace-based retirement accounts (401K, 403b) and others. One of the DOL’s responsibilities is making the rules for how financial advisers and account managers have to behave.
This is particularly important now that so many people have their retirement savings in accounts over which they have a great deal of control. As a result, they may be seeking advice.
Does the person you are asking for advice have a responsibility to put your interests first and disclose to you any financial interest s/he has in products in which you might invest? Does s/he have a financial interest in different choices you can make? If so, s/he is called a fiduciary. Over the last 40 or so years (during which time the rules have hardly been updated) many more of us are seeking out advice, and getting it from financial professionals who do NOT fall into the fiduciary category. That means we are getting our advice from professionals who are not legally required to put our interests first.
Does that mean their advice is always bad? Of course not, and many give solid advice and disclose any commissions they might benefit from based on choices they advise you to make. But not all do, and those who are not classified as fiduciaries are not always obligated to do so.
In the coming weeks we will continue to review the new rule--it is complicated, nuanced, and long--and we will update you about what the changes would mean for investors and professionals in the field. The rule is currently in its “comment period.” To read more and comment, click here visit the Federal Register’s website.
And from the DOL, learn more about conflicts of interest and the proposed rule change by clicking here.
Finally, check out the DOL’s short video on the matter: “Are your retirement savings at risk?”
Rachel Goldberg, Ph.D has been the B’nai B’rith International director of health and aging policy since 2003 and the deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Senior Services since 2007. Before joining B'nai B'rith International, she taught politics and government at the University of Puget Sound and Georgetown University. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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