Articles Tagged with DOL fiduciary rule

While the majority of the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule, Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (“PTE 2020-02), became enforceable on January 31st, some of the requirements pertaining to rollover recommendations are set to be enforced on July 1, 2022.

As detailed in this blog post, the DOL provided transition relief in its Field Assistance Bulletin, FAB 2021-02 by extending the enforcement date of PTE 2020-02 through January 31, 2022 for investment advice fiduciaries who are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the “Impartial Conduct Standards” for any transactions that are exempted under PTE 2020-02. These standards include a best interest standard, a reasonable compensation standard, and a requirement to avoid any materially misleading statements about the recommended transaction and other relevant matters.

PTE 2020-02 also requires investment advice fiduciaries to document the specific reasons any rollover recommendations from an employee benefit plan to another plan or an IRA, from an IRA to a plan, from an IRA to another IRA, or from one type of account to another is in the best interest of the retirement investor. PTE 2020-02 further requires this documentation to be provided to the retirement investor prior to engaging in the rollover. In FAB 2021-02, the DOL announced that it would not enforce the documentation and disclosure requirements for rollover recommendations under PTE 2020-02 through June 30, 2022.
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As anticipated, on October 25, 2021, the Department of Labor extended its previously adopted policy regarding delayed enforcement of Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 (“PTE 2020-02). This policy extension extended the deadline for enforcement of PTE 2020-02, allowing investment advisers who are investment advice fiduciaries additional time to comply with the exemption.

Sometimes referred to as “Fiduciary Rule 3.0,” PTE 2020-02 provides exemptions from the prohibited transaction rules for investment advice fiduciaries with respect to employee benefit plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). PTE 2020-02 allows an investment advice fiduciary to advise an ERISA Plan or an IRA and receive variable compensation. In this context, “variable compensation” means compensation that varies based on the advice provided, such as a commission.  For example, even though an investment adviser will receive “additional fees” by recommending that a client or potential client roll over 401(K) assets into an IRA to be managed by the adviser as a fiduciary, such a recommendation will not be deemed a prohibited transaction if the requirements of PTE 2020-02 are met. In order to take advantage of PTE 2020-02, however, the adviser must meet several conditions, which we outlined in a blog post earlier this year.

In 2018, the DOL issued Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB) 2018-02, a temporary enforcement policy that explained the DOL would not pursue prohibited transaction claims, nor conclude that persons are violating the prohibited transaction rules if an investment advice fiduciary can demonstrate it worked in good faith and reasonable diligence to comply with “Impartial Conduct Standards” for transactions that would have been exempted under the previously vacated 2016 rule. Those impartial conduct standards include providing investment advice in the client’s best interest, receiving only reasonable compensation, and avoiding any materially misleading statements. FAB 2018-02 was set to expire on December 20, 2021.

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Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it has finalized the new “fiduciary rule” proposed during the Trump administration, creating a new exemption to the fiduciary standards that investment advisers must comply with when servicing ERISA accounts and IRAs Specifically, the new rule – Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2002-02 – creates an exception to ERISA’s prohibited transaction rules and similar rules under the Internal Revenue Code. The DOL issued a Fact Sheet summarizing the rule and its impact.

The new exemption grants investment advisers more latitude and in dealing with such accounts. The exemption applies to both SEC and state-registered investment advisers, broker-dealers, banks, insurance companies, and their employees, agents, and representatives that serve as investment advice fiduciaries. The exemption is slated to become effective February 16, 2021. Some have speculated, however, that the new Biden administration may withdraw the rule and pursue a more restrictive one similar to the 2016 exemption adopted during the Obama administration.

After the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down the Obama-era fiduciary rule in 2018, the DOL issued a Field Assistance Bulletin (FAB 2018-02), that was a temporary policy that provided relief under the prohibited transaction rules to investment advice fiduciaries, provided they worked in good faith the follow the “impartial conduct standards” that had been codified in the vacated rule. The impartial conduct standards require that an adviser act in the client’s best interest, receive only reasonable compensation and refrain from misleading clients. The new final rules, designed to supersede FAB 2018-02, were proposed in June 2020. FAB 2018-02 will remain in effect for 365 days following the publication of the new rule in the Federal Register, while the exemption will become effective 60 days after publication. Continue reading ›

On March 15, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit elected, in a 2-1 decision, to vacate the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Fiduciary Rule (Chamber of Commerce of the U.S.A., et al. v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, et al.).  In doing so, the Fifth Circuit overturned the Fiduciary Rule in its entirety, including its new definition of fiduciary advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1975 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code), as well as the various new exemptions and revisions to existing exemptions that it features.  It is uncertain whether the DOL will request that the Fifth Circuit rehear the case, appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court, or do nothing.  The Fifth Circuit’s decision, however, has not deterred the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from continuing to discuss implementing its own fiduciary rule.

According to the Fifth Circuit’s majority opinion, the DOL exceeded its authority in adopting the new fiduciary investment advice definition in the Fiduciary Rule, finding the definition inconsistent with the plain text of ERISA and the Code. The Fifth Circuit also concluded that the DOL acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in, among other things, requiring people providing services to IRAs to sign a contract under the Best Interest Contract exemption in which they admit that they are fiduciaries and can be sued. Therefore, the Fifth Circuit concluded that “the Rule fails to pass the tests of reasonableness of the [Administrative Procedures Act].” Continue reading ›

The Department of Labor (DOL) last week published a final rule extending the transition period of the Fiduciary Rule and delaying the second phase of implementation from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. The DOL stated that the primary reason for delaying the rule was to give the DOL necessary time to review the substantial commentary it has received under the criteria set forth in the Presidential Memorandum issued in February of this year, as well as to consider possible changes or alternatives to the Fiduciary Rule exemptions and to seek input from the SEC and other securities regulators.

The Fiduciary Rule was enacted in April 2016, with its applicability date originally set for April 10, 2017. It also provided for a transition period through January 1, 2018 for compliance with certain new and amended Prohibited Transaction Exemptions (PTEs), including the new Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption. The full requirements of the BIC exemption, including the written contract requirement for transactions involving IRA owners, are not required until the end of the transition period. Continue reading ›

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently published its proposal to extend the transition period of the Fiduciary Rule and delay the second phase of implementation from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. Currently only adherence to the impartial conduct standards is required for compliance with the Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption during the transition period, as well as for certain other prohibited transaction exemptions issued or revised in connection with the Fiduciary Rule. Compliance with the full provisions of the BIC exemption and the other related exemptions is not required until the second phase of implementation of the Fiduciary Rule, which is currently set for January 1, 2018.

If adopted, the same requirements in effect now for compliance with the BIC exemption and related exemptions would remain in effect for the duration of the extended transition period. The DOL stated that the primary purpose for seeking to extend the transition period was to allow the DOL sufficient time to review the substantial commentary it has received and consider possible changes or alternatives to the Fiduciary Rule exemptions. The DOL noted its concern that without a delay in the applicability date, financial institutions would incur expenses attempting to comply with certain conditions or requirements of the newly issued or revised exemptions that are ultimately revised or repealed.

The DOL stated that it anticipates it will propose in the near future a “new and more streamlined class exemption built in large part on recent innovations in the financial services industry.” These recent innovations include the development of “clean shares” of mutual funds by some broker-dealers, which the DOL discussed approvingly in its first set of transition period FAQ guidance. “Clean shares” would not include any form of distribution-related payment to the broker, but would instead have uniform commission levels across different mutual funds that would be set by the financial institution. In this way, the firm could mitigate conflicts of interest by substantially insulating advisers from the incentive to recommend certain mutual funds over others. However, these types of innovations will take time to develop.

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently indicated in a court filing that it has submitted a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to extend the transition period of the Fiduciary Rule and delay the second phase of implementation from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019. This proposal is currently under review by the OMB.

The DOL also recently released a new set of FAQ guidance regarding compliance with the Fiduciary Rule during the transition period when providing advice to IRAs, plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), and other plans covered by section 4975 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). Most of the questions dealt specifically with the prohibited transaction exemption under ERISA section 408(b)(2) for service providers to ERISA plans. Continue reading ›

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released a final rule delaying by 60 days the implementation date of the DOL Fiduciary Rule from April 10th to June 9th. This is in response to President Trump’s February memorandum asking the DOL to review the impact of the DOL Fiduciary Rule and assess whether it negatively effects the ability of retirement investors to gain access to retirement information and financial advice. The DOL Fiduciary Rule seeks to assign fiduciary duties to all advisers to retirement investors by expanding the definition of fiduciary investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to cover a wider array of advice relationships.

Under the DOL’s final delay rule, the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice and certain provisions of the Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption will be implemented on June 9th. At that time, advisers acting as fiduciaries and engaging in transactions covered by the exemption must comply with the impartial conduct standards of the BIC exemption. The impartial conduct standards include providing investment advice in the best interest of the retirement investor, receiving only reasonable compensation, and not making any materially misleading statements. Continue reading ›

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued two new sets of FAQ guidance regarding the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Code), as well as the new prohibited transaction exemptions (PTEs). The first set of guidance is directed to retirement investors, not advisers, and answers basic questions investors may have regarding the new rule and how it will work. The second set of guidance is aimed at financial service providers and focuses mainly on the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice and the situations in which fiduciary duties will or will not attach under the new rule.

While the first set of FAQ guidance is not necessarily aimed at financial service providers, it did provide a few useful insights that I will briefly discuss here. The DOL stated that the new rule does not require advisers to indiscriminately move clients from commission-based accounts to fee-based accounts, and instead requires advisers to act in the client’s best interest when deciding what type of account to recommend. Regarding the best interest requirement, the DOL clarified that providing investment advice in a client’s best interest does not mean that advisers have a duty to find the best possible investment product for clients out of all the investments available in the marketplace. Continue reading ›

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently denied a motion brought by the National Association for Fixed Annuities (NAFA) to enjoin the implementation of the new Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule. This is the first court decision on a legal challenge to the rule. There are currently several other lawsuits against the DOL seeking to overrule the new DOL fiduciary rule that await decision.

NAFA is an insurance trade association that represents insurance companies, independent marketing organizations, and individual insurance agents. NAFA has been very vocal in its opposition to the new DOL fiduciary rule, stating that the new rule will have “catastrophic consequences for the fixed indexed annuities industry” and that meeting the April 2017 deadline is “almost an impossibility for the industry.” Along with other opponents to the rule, NAFA believes the rule will lead to higher compliance costs and will greatly increase litigation risk.

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