One of President Trump's most eye-opening executive orders was to start the process of repealing the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, enacted in 2010 to issue new, tighter regulations for the banking and finance industry. A memorandum announcing the moves was issued by the White House last week.
"We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank," Trump said, in announcing the move. "I have so many people, friends of mine, with nice businesses, they can't borrow money, because the banks just won't let them borrow because of the rules and regulations and Dodd-Frank."
In the memorandum, Trump also promised to do away with the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule, which sought to force more transparency - especially on fees - in the financial advisory sector.
With both Dodd-Frank and the DOL rule very much in doubt, how should money managers discuss the situation with financial clients? Very carefully, experts say - and in real world terms.
"From the client side, I don't anticipate there being much of an impact," says Lawrence Kaplan, a bank regulatory and payments attorney at Washington, D.C.-based Paul Hastings. "Bank customers need to be aware of deposit insurance limits, as fewer 'cops on the beat' to regulate market actors has historically led to failures down the road."
"As far as having an impact on the markets, there likely will be fewer dollars being allocated to compliance, freeing up capital for banks to lend and invest," Kaplan adds. "However, state laws are not impacted by changes to Dodd-Frank, which will prevent wholesale gutting of compliance departments."
Advisors and their clients should also be aware of a series of changes they can expect to come out of the White House memorandum, says Todd Cipperman, founding principal at Cipperman Compliance Services.
"There are four levels of changes possible: first, change leadership at such agencies as the Consumer Financial Protection Board; second, an executive order affecting how agencies proceed; third, rulemaking, and fourth, legislation," says Cipperman
Much of Dodd-Frank is legislative, which requires new laws and Democratic consent in the Senate, and that is a slow and oftentimes cumbersome process, Cipperman explains. "It is unclear how much the administration can roll back without legislation or rulemaking, and a new rule that amends or deletes the rule would require a significant amount of time," he says. "Many broker-dealers have already spent a lot of money implementing the rule. It's not likely that they will undo these efforts, choosing to move forward with the current rule as a business decision."
Money managers may also want to "slow walk" the entire Dodd-Frank/DOL ruling repeal, as few seem to know exactly how the repeal will play out.
Much of Dodd-Frank was a response to the financial crisis, which was a very different economic and political climate, Cimmerman explains. "It's unclear whether the new administration can or wants to strike all of Dodd-Frank or only pieces of it," he says. "We could probably use some empirical evidence before making legislative decisions. Did Dodd-Frank protect consumers against a continuing financial crisis, or has it hurt them by limiting the economy? Are banks truly less willing to lend because of regulation, or are there other economic factors? There are good intuitive argument on both sides, but hard data might be helpful before making policy choices."
Some financial industry insiders say that the Trump administrations moves could put investors at risk, and those investors ought to know that.
"The American investor needs protection from financial advisors who may not have their best interests at heart," says Julian Rubinstein, president and CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based American Asset Management, "This is like telling medical doctors not to practice the best medicine that they can."
It's not surprising that President Trump, who is widely viewed as a friend to Wall Street, is starting to dismantle regulations largely put into effect in the Obama administration. But financial advisors may want to tell clients what's at stake financially. "Big insurance companies and Trump billionaire cronies are behind the takedown of this important law, which oversees about $3 trillion in assets," says Rubinstein.
Another point of conversation - the financial markets are well aware of Trump's attentions and are already acting accordingly.
"In many ways, the market has already priced in some paring back of Dodd-Frank as financials are up over 20% since the election, outpacing the market by a good amount," says Jim Smigiel, head of global portfolio strategy at SEI Investments in Philadelphia, "Where we go from here will be a function of how aggressive the administration will be and my bet would be they would like to go big. Therefore, I would expect the momentum to continue."
That said, rescinding the DOL would most likely not have much of a near term market effect, Smigiel says. "In very simple terms the rule prioritizes low cost over other factors in advising clients," he notes. "However, even with a full-scale reversal of the DOL rule, I don't see any reversal in the current industry trends of fee compression or increasing use of ETFs."
These are all good points and well-worth including in any conversation advisors should have with clients. The Trump effect is real, and transparency will be all the more important between advisors and clients in the next four years.