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DoL Fiduciary Hearings in 11 Key Quotes

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After four days, nearly 40 hours of testimony and more than 70 speakers, the Labor Department has wrapped up the latest phase in its effort to craft and implement a new fiduciary rule governing retirement advice in America.

An array of speakers, representing plan sponsors, brokerage firms and investor advocates, weighed in on the benefits and flaws of the proposed rule.

Though listening to the sessions was sometimes akin to watching paint dry, fireworks occasionally went off as speakers gave equally grim accounts of abused investors and skyrocketing costs for clients, should the rule be implemented as is.

To see the sharpest critiques and key takeaways, scroll below or click here for the slideshow.

To read our full coverage of the hearings, click here.

“[We] disagree with the process whereby one agency is developing yet another standard that will apply to only one sector of the retail investment market. It simply makes no sense that the government would not develop a holistic standard.

SIFMA CEO Kenneth Bentsen

Some opponents of the Labor Department’s effort have reiterated their support for a fiduciary standard, but one led by the SEC, not the DOL. They claim that the Labor Department’s efforts will create a confusing regulatory regime.

To read more of testimony from Bentsen and others, click here.

“Smaller clients will be left with the choice of paying too much or not getting any advice at all.”

Scott Stolz, senior vice president of private client group products and solutions at Raymond James

Another common refrain from opponents is that the rule will diminish client choice, by preventing many firms from providing certain kinds of retirement advice and services because of the rule’s complexity and higher compliance costs.

To read more, click here.

“You are hearing the crocodile tears of an industry that claims it won’t be able to help the small saver. … Frankly, I would welcome it if Wall Street stayed away from the small saver.”

Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate with Public Citizen

Investor advocates sometimes presented fierce critiques of the industry in general and brokers in particular.

To read more about their dire portraits of abused investors, click here.

“We believe that the proposed rule would create tremendous investor confusion as different rules are applied to different assets and accounts within the same household.”

James Allen, CEO of Hilliard Lyons

Executives from asset managers, insurers and brokerage firms made the trip to Washington to inveigh against the DoL’s proposed rule. While some asked the DoL to step back and let the SEC take the lead, others provided pointed suggestions for how to improve the rule’s clarity for firms, advisors and investors.

To read more, click here.

“It is hard enough to save for retirement. Conflicted investment advice should not be one of the barriers millions of Americans face as they work to save for their retirement.”

David Certner, legislative policy counsel for AARP

The hearings drew a wide array of participants, from AARP to PSCA. While the DOL’s proposal aims to eliminate conflicts, plan sponsors and others have asked for greater clarification of the proposed rule and its exemptions.

To read more, click here.

“The fee-based advisors win with this proposal. They win because they will continue to operate in the manner they always have.”

JuIi McNeely, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors

There was continued sparring over commission-based versus fee-based models, with some participants like McNeely suggesting that the rule unnecessarily favors the latter.

To read more, click here.

“As written, the proposal jeopardizes our ability to provide commission-based services to IRA clients when that might be the preferred model for them.”

Gregory McShea, general counsel for Janney Montgomery Scott

Though Labor Department officials have said that they do not want to eliminate commission-based compensation models, representatives from brokerage firms maintained that the rule would do exactly that.

To read more of McShea’s critique of the proposal, click here.

“Workers and retirees cannot afford to wait any longer as their retirement savings are being depleted by conflicts of interest every day.”

Stephen Hall, a securities specialist at Better Markets

The fiduciary rule has been in the works for a long time. The Labor Department last proposed a rule in 2010, but then pulled it after facing strong opposition. Opponents and supporters now expect the department to move ahead with the current proposal or an amended version of it.

To read more about Hall’s testimony, click here.

“We think that [retirement plan] participants can distinguish between a sales presentation and advice.”

Charles Nelson, CEO of Retirement at Voya Financial

Is it a sale or is it advice? That was another running theme for discussion at the hearings, with participants deeply divided on whether you could separate the two.

To read more, click here.

“This is a relationship that cries out for fiduciary protection because it is a relationship of trust and it’s promoted as a relationship of trust.”

Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America

The hearings culminated months of sparring between the DoL’s supporters and critics. Some investor advocates say that firms and brokers hold themselves out as trusted advisors, but deny they serve in such a capacity when they face legal challenges in arbitration or in the courts.

To read more about this and other criticism, click here.

“I think there is no debate that a shift to a fee-based model from a brokerage model will result in higher costs” for smaller clients.

Ron Kruszewski, CEO of Stifel

Kruszewski predicted that if the rule goes into effect, it would have perverse results. Firms like his would effectively be forced to move clients with small commission-based brokerage accounts into fee-based accounts, leading to higher costs for the clients and higher revenues for the firm.

To read more about the hearings, click here

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