© 2020 Arizent. All rights reserved.

Post-fiduciary forecast: Less adviser freedom, more cookie cutter portfolios

Register now

In a post-fiduciary world, cookie cutter portfolios and passive investing vehicles are bound to become wealth management favorites. High fees and adviser managed portfolios are likely to fall from favor, according to a new report from research firm Cerulli Associates.

"Firms are looking to decrease the number of firm relationships and products available because the more product variation, the greater the compliance risk to the firm," Onkita Ganguly, associate analyst at Cerulli, said in a statement.

It's yet another indication for how wealth management firms will position themselves to implement the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule, which is due to go into effect April 2017 and which has far reaching implications for the business.

IRA rollovers are expected to reach nearly $2.4 trillion cumulatively by 2020, according to Cerulli Associates. And firms may finds themselves in an unwanted position explaining new fee structures as 49% of clients do not know how much they currently pay for financial advice, according to the Boston-based research firm.

"Currently, firms are struggling to make sure transitions are seamless for clients. No firm wants a client to question past investment strategies or the intention of the adviser," Cerulli says in its latest research report.

Last month, Edward Jones, which has 14,000 brokers, said it would make use of the rule's best interest contract exemption and offer a transaction-based IRA that will exclude ETFs, UITs and mutual funds — a move designed to avoid concerns that the St. Louis-based brokerage firm had about the pricing of such funds. Clients using the firm's new IRA will instead have access to stocks, bonds, CDs and variable annuities, according to Edward Jones.

Over $14 billion flowed into the low-risk ETF category in the first half of 2016.
July 18

Executives at RBC and D.A. Davidson told On Wall Street last week that they shared Edward Jones' concerns, but have yet to make a decision.

"We haven't made that decision yet because of the complexity of load structures, and pricing and break points," said Andrew Crowell, vice chairman of D.A. Davidson's Individual Investor Group, which has 400 advisers and more than $38 billion in assets under management.

"We've been working with our strategic partners to better understand what changes or share class they might offer so that we might continue to rely on their expert management. I'd say it's a work in progress," he said.

Tom O'Shea, associate director at Cerulli Associates, said managed account sponsors will "embrace a portfolio construction philosophy that seeks to reduce risk, lower fees, and use passive investment vehicles."

Post-fiduciary, the industry will experience rising demand for passive ETFs in managed accounts, O'Shea said in a statement.

"Advisers report that by 2018, 58% of ETFs they use in client portfolios will be pure passive vehicles, while 21% will be active ETFs and 20% will be strategic beta ETFs," O'Shea said.

In order to set themselves apart from the competition, advisers will have to focus on other advisory activities and especially goals-based planning, according to O'Shea.

Cerulli said it interviewed several executives for its report and that they expected that client portfolios would be dominated by low-cost, passive ETFs. Cerulli quoted an unnamed executive as saying that future portfolios will be "boring and homogeneous."

This may become increasingly necessary as many firms may look to restrict advisers' ability to offer their own custom portfolios to clients, focusing instead on portfolio models offered by the home office, according to Cerulli.

"The flexibility that advisers have desired since 2008 is a vulnerability to the large firms that seek more visibility and oversight than ever before. For example, firms are looking to decrease the number of firm relationships and products available because the more product variation, the greater the compliance risk to the firm," the research firm says in its report.

For advisers and planners, the focus of their job may increasingly turn to managing the client relationship.

The Labor Department's regulation "makes auditing imperative to defend choices, goal-based planning will be a way for an adviser to show their value and progress to both clients and the home office," Cerulli says.

Cerulli also reports that broker-dealers are upping their educational offerings to advisers. Indeed, the research firm says that executives "should find it alarming that some advisers are not particularly worried about the rule."

Advisers, Cerulil notes, are the first point of contact with the client, and play a key role in documentation — which is critical for compliance departments.

"Firms need to educate advisers on what it means to be a fiduciary and everything that can be considered a conflict of interest," Ganguly said.

Several firms recently told On Wall Street that they are preparing to train their brokers on the rule's nuances in a variety of ways, including webinars, branch visits from specialists and conferences.

"Initial activity includes educating advisers about the rule (in branch meetings and online) and asking them to review their books to understand where the impacts will be," a Morgan Stanley spokesman said.

D.A. Davidson's Crowell said that his firm had planned a post-Labor Day rollout of training and solutions provided by the firm and third party vendors.

"Now we are in a real focused escalation time where we are giving advisers specific directions on what they can do to prepare," he said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.