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Fiduciary rule 'in jeopardy' under Trump

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Donald Trump's upset victory sets the stage to overturn signature aspects of President Obama's legacy on financial matters, including the Department of Labor's fiduciary regulation, which is set to be phased in starting in April.

"The rule could be in jeopardy," says Barbara Roper, director of Investor Protection at the Consumer Federation of America, an investor advocacy group.

Reversing the fiduciary standard on retirement accounts, which would upend firms’ costly efforts to comply with the regulation, is not a foregone conclusion. Although Trump stated his opposition repeatedly to Obama's policies, he often refrained from spelling out his proposals in detail during the campaign.

The Trump campaign says on its website it would put a moratorium on new regulations and require federal agencies to prepare a list of all regulations, from most to least critical. "Least-critical regulations will receive priority consideration for repeal," the website says.

"It's really hard to predict what a Trump administration would look like on these issues because there are so few specifics out there," Roper says.

Rolling back the regulation would upend the plans of many brokerage and advisory firms, which have been spending heavily to prepare their systems and advisers for it.

Merrill Lynch, which has said it will cease offering commission-based IRAs to comply with the rule, has even created a fiduciary-based advertising campaign: "This is a positive step forward for the industry and great news for investors. At Merrill Lynch we support it wholeheartedly."


An appointment of new commissioners to the SEC is another early arena where the Trump administration could exercise its power and influence. The commission currently has two openings; in addition, Chairwoman Mary Jo White is likely to leave next year. Regardless, efforts to extend the fiduciary rule to non-retirement accounts, which the SEC was authorized to do by the Dodd-Frank Act, are a likely nonstarter.

Clients – as well as advisers – may at some point enjoy tax cuts under President Trump, who has promised "the biggest tax reform since Reagan," according to the candidate's website.

The markets could also be in for a period of volatility since investors tend to fear periods of uncertainty, and it’s unclear which of Trump’s policies will be emphasized or, potentially, enacted.

Of course, campaign promises are sometimes ditched once a president faces the reality of governing.

"It's hard to know in advance what'll be in a president's mind," says Knut Rostad, president of the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard. "Who would have thought that Nixon would be the president to open up relations with China?"

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