There's yet another plot twist on the U.S. Department of Labor's sometimes quixotic quest to impose a fiduciary rule, under the "best interest of the client" banner, for U.S. financial advisors.
In this instance, the DOL has opted to a delay (although the agency is formally calling it an "extension") of its proposed fiduciary rule on financial industry investment advisory practices. The delay, announced this month, will extend of the applicability dates of the fiduciary rule and related exemptions, including the Best Interest Contract Exemption, from April 10 to June 9, 2017.
Some Wall Street insiders are already wondering if the extension was triggered by a February 3, 2017 White House memo asking the DOL to re-examine the rule, and weigh any possibilities that it might negatively impact the ability for U.S. Main Street investors to receive full and unfettered access to good money management advice.
The DOL does say that the White House memo played a part in the "delay" decision. "The proposed extension is intended to give the department time to collect and consider information related to the issues raised in the memorandum before the rule and exemptions become applicable," the agency states in a release.
The department will accept public comments on the proposed extension for 15 days following its publication, the DOL adds. "Comments on issues raised in the presidential memorandum will be accepted for 45 days," it said in the statement.
Investment industry professionals are cautioning the investment public - and financial advisors - from making too much of the two-month DOL delay.
"It's good news that the DOL has taken a step back in order to take additional public comment and input, as well as analyze the cost benefits of the fiduciary rule," says Joe Heider, president of Cirrus Wealth Management in Cleveland.
Most firms, however -- whether a broker-dealers or a product creators -- have modified practices and products in order to be compliant with the proposed rule, Heider explains. "No matter what happens with the rule at this stage, even if it were to be eliminated, the best practices of transparency and lower fees and commissions are going to be the way forward," he adds. "The ideal may be that consumers have benefitted a great deal and if the rule was not implemented, those best practices are already in place. if the rule is implemented, hopefully it will achieve the goals of protecting investors while at the same time not being overly burdensome and unambiguous as it was originally proposed."
Even if the DOL fiduciary rule implementation date is delayed, it is unlikely to derail its course, other industry experts say. "While the U.S. Office of Management and Budget already concluded that the delay itself is now considered "economically significant", further delays will be limited in duration," says Mark Friedenthal, founder and CEO of Tolerisk, developer of a risk tolerance assessment tool created for financial advisors and other wealth management professionals. "Most advisors we work with report they've been preparing for the DOL fiduciary rule for some time, and recognize that the industry is likely to keep moving in this direction."
At this point, some money managers say enough is enough, and that the rule should go through as advertised.
"As wealth advisors, already primarily operating as fiduciaries, we're in total support of the proposed rule to act in the best interests of the client at all times," states Kevin Norris, president of Univest Wealth Management division, in Souderton, Pa.
Yet some of the benefits of the proposed rule, like the elimination of many conflicts of interest, greater fee transparency and lower costs, are needed in the investment advisory right now, Norris says. "Arguing against passage of the rule are that small investors will be left without options, the rule will lead to increased litigation which is the primary enforcement tool, and some firms may get forced out of the industry due to increased regulatory compliance costs and reduced revenues," he warns.
Few people like delays, whether it's a red-eye flight to New York or a U.S. government agency looking to establish new investment management industry rules.
That doesn't change the fact that the DOL is pushing the fiduciary rule deadline back to June 9, 2017. But even so, investment advisors are growing impatient with the underlying regulatory uncertainty - and just want to get this show on the road.