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Fiduciary Duties

SEC Adopts Rulemaking Package – “Solely Incidental” Broker-Dealer Exclusion

On June 5, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rulemaking package that applies to investment advisers and broker-dealers.

This is the fourth in a series of articles describing the SEC’s rulemaking package.  This article addresses the SEC’s Interpretation of the “Solely Incidental” Broker-Dealer Exclusion.  That exclusion allows broker-dealers to provide certain advisory services without becoming subject to regulation as investment advisers under the Advisers Act, as long as those services are “solely incidental” to the broker-dealers’ core business.  The SEC’s new interpretation of this exclusion provides some helpful guidance for broker-dealers and dually-registered firms.

SEC Adopts Rulemaking Package – Form CRS

On June 5, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rulemaking package that applies to investment advisers and broker-dealers.  These rules include a new set of disclosure requirements to address retail investor confusion over brokerage and investment advisory services.

This is the third in a series of articles describing the SEC’s rulemaking package.  This article provides an overview of the Form CRS – Relationship Summary portion of the package.

SEC Adopts Rulemaking Package – Investment Adviser Standard of Conduct

On June 5, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rulemaking package that applies to investment advisers and broker-dealers.  In a series of four articles, Spencer Fane LLP outlines the SEC’s rulemaking package.  Our first article summarized “Regulation Best Interest” a new standard of conduct governing broker-dealers.  In this second article, we describe the SEC’s interpretation of the standard of conduct that applies to investment advisers when they engage with their clients.

SEC Adopts Rulemaking Package – Regulation Best Interest

On June 5, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rulemaking package that is applicable to investment advisers and broker-dealers.  The package includes two final rules and two interpretations – Regulation Best Interest, Investment Adviser Standard of Conduct Interpretation, Form CRS – Relationship Summary, and Solely Incidental Broker-Dealer Exclusion Interpretation.  The Regulation Best Interest and Form CRS requirements are effective 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register, with a transition period for compliance that ends on June 30, 2020.  The SEC’s interpretations are effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register.  In a series of four articles, Spencer Fane LLP outlines the SEC’s rulemaking package.  This first article describes the Regulation Best Interest portion of the SEC’s package.

Cyber Liability Insurance for Employee Benefit Plans: Hackers and Malware and Phishing – Oh My!

Cyberattacks have managed to invade all walks of life, and employee benefit plans are no exception.  When a plan is attacked, the fallout can be overwhelmingly expensive and burdensome to correct.  Many plan sponsors are purchasing cyber liability insurance coverage to supplement their data security measures.  Understanding those policies – and their exclusions – is important for sponsors who are exploring such coverage.

The SEC’s Fiduciary Proposal – Form CRS

On April 18, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a proposal package that includes two new rules and one interpretative release.  The package consists of three components – Regulation Best Interest, Investment Adviser Standard of Conduct Interpretation, and Form CRS – Relationship Summary.   According to the SEC, the proposal is intended to balance investor protections and regulatory requirements with investor access and choice.  Each component of the proposal is available for public comment for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

In a series of three articles, Spencer Fane LLP describes the SEC’s proposal and potential impacts on broker-dealers and investment advisers.  This third article describes the Form CRS – Relationship Summary portion of the SEC’s fiduciary proposal.

The SEC’s Fiduciary Proposal – Regulation Best Interest

In an open meeting on April 18, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted four to one to issue two new rules and one interpretative release that are intended to provide investor protections and regulatory clarity, as well as investor access and choice.  Specifically, the SEC issued Regulation Best Interest, Investment Adviser Standard of Conduct Interpretation, and Form CRS – Relationship Summary.  Each component of the SEC’s proposal is available for public comment for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.  In a series of three articles, Spencer Fane LLP describes the SEC’s proposal and potential impacts on broker-dealers and investment advisers.  This first article describes the Regulation Best Interest portion of the SEC’s fiduciary proposal.

Here We Go Again… Fifth Circuit Strikes Down DOL’s Fiduciary Rule

In a significant blow to the Department of Labor’s controversial regulation re-defining what constitutes an investment-advice fiduciary, a split three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 15 that the DOL exceeded its authority when creating the rule.  The 2-1 decision of the appellate court strikes down the regulation and its associated prohibited transaction exemptions in their entirety.  (Chamber of Commerce v. U.S. Dept. of Labor (5th Cir. March 15, 2018)).  In its wake, the court’s decision leaves even more of the confusion that has plagued the DOL’s 2016 rulemaking.

Investment Advisers and Conflicts Of Interest

The Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission have expressed concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest that investment advisers do not explicitly disclosed.  Thus, plan fiduciaries may not be aware of such conflicts when they engage and monitor their plan’s investment consultant.  These concerns were recently highlighted when the SEC launched an initiative in connection with investment advisers’ selection or recommendation of a higher-cost mutual fund share class for their clients when a lower-cost share class of the same fund is available.  The SEC’s initiative reminds plan fiduciaries of the importance of obtaining appropriate information to fulfill their fiduciary obligations when engaging and monitoring investment advisers.

SEC Launches Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced a temporary program for investment advisers who may have inadequately disclosed potential conflicts of interest related to their selection or recommendation of mutual fund share classes. Participation in the program, however, is not without its drawbacks.

Fiduciary Rule – Status Quo until July 1, 2019

On November 29, 2017, the Department of Labor granted an extension of the transition period for the Fiduciary Rule’s Best Interest Contact Exemption and Principal Transaction Exemption, and delayed the applicability date of the amendments to Prohibited Transaction Exemption 84-24. The new transition period will end on July 1, 2019, rather than January 1, 2018. The Department also extended the temporary enforcement policy in Field Assistance Bulletin 2017-02 to July 1, 2019. Thus, financial institutions and advisers impacted by the Fiduciary Rule and related exemptions remain subject to the same requirements as they have been since June 9, 2017, when the Fiduciary Rule and the Impartial Conduct Standards became applicable.

The Fiduciary Rule is Alive

According to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule will become effective on June 9th. As discussed in our May 9th article, the Rule’s expanded definition of “fiduciary” will apply, and advisers and financial institutions providing investment advice as fiduciaries must comply with the Rule’s “impartial conduct” standards, beginning on June 9, 2017. At this time, the full scope of the Fiduciary Rule and its related prohibited transaction exemptions will be applicable on January 1, 2018.

DOL’s Fiduciary Rule Countdown

For investment advisers and financial institutions, the countdown to compliance with the Department of Labor’s new “conflict of interest” rule ends on June 9, 2017. The Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a final rule on April 7, 2017, that delays the original applicability date of its conflict of interest regulation (the “Fiduciary Rule”) and its related prohibited transaction exemptions for 60 days, creating a “Transition Period” that starts on June 9, 2017, and ends on December 31, 2017.

DOL Fiduciary Rule Enforcement – Confusion and Disruption Relief

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has proposed to delay for 60 days the “applicability date” of the Fiduciary Rule (“Rule”), and the new and revised prohibited transaction exemptions related to the Rule. The proposed delay has created confusion within the financial services industry because it is not certain that a final rule implementing the delay can be published (and become effective) before the Rule’s April 10th applicability date. In response to the confusion, the DOL issued Field Assistance Bulletin 2017-01 (“Bulletin”) announcing a temporary enforcement policy that assures advisers and financial institutions that the DOL will not seek to enforce the Rule or the related prohibited transaction exemptions in the event the Rule becomes applicable before it is officially delayed.

DOL Proposes 60-Day Delay for Fiduciary Rule

After nearly a month of regulatory machinations and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Department of Labor has released a proposed rule that would delay the “applicability date” of its recently enacted “conflict of interest” (or “fiduciary”) regulation (the “Fiduciary Rule”). The 60-day delay in the applicability of the Fiduciary Rule would have only an indirect effect on employers, but is of great interest to investment advisors and other service providers.

Trump Orders DOL to “Reconsider” Fiduciary Rule

On Friday, February, 3, 2017, President Trump issued a Memorandum directing the Secretary of Labor to “re-examine” the Department of Labor’s final regulation defining “fiduciary” investment advice (sometimes referred to as the “Fiduciary Rule” or the “Conflict of Interest Rule”), and to consider whether the Rule should be revised or rescinded. The Rule, which significantly expands the circumstances under which an individual becomes a “fiduciary” by reason of providing investment advice for a fee, was finalized in April of 2016, and technically became effective last July, but was drafted such that its provisions generally do not become “applicable” to financial advisers until April 10, 2017.

SEC Guidance Update and the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule

In December, the Division of Investment Management of the Securities and Exchange Commission issued Guidance Update No. 2016-06. The Update provides disclosure and procedural guidance to address potential issues for mutual funds responding to the Department of Labor’s adoption of the Conflict of Interest Rule. To address concerns by financial intermediaries that variations in mutual fund sales loads may violate the Rule, Funds are exploring various options, including changing fee structures and creating new share classes. Such changes may impact fiduciary decisions regarding a plan’s investments and compensation arrangements.

DOL Releases Final Regulation Defining Investment Fiduciaries

After years of effort, the Department of Labor released final rules on April 6, 2016, that will substantially alter the way investment advice is provided to ERISA plans, their participants, and even non-ERISA IRAs.

It’s Unanimous: The Fiduciary Duty to Monitor Has Teeth

The United States Supreme Court gave considerable comfort to defined contribution plan participants – and their lawyers – who sue plan fiduciaries for failing to keep track of plan investment options. In a unanimous decision handed down on May 18, 2015, the Court held in Tibble v. Edison International that ERISA fiduciaries have a “continuing duty” to monitor investment options, and that plan participants have six years from the date of an alleged violation of that duty to file a lawsuit against the plan’s fiduciaries. This ruling significantly undercuts the utility of a statute of limitations defense that had been successfully deployed by plan fiduciaries in previous cases, and creates fertile ground for more litigation.

Anthem Security Breach May Require Plan Sponsor Action

The well-publicized cyber-attack on Anthem, Inc.’s information technology system may require employers to take prompt action to protect the rights of their health plan participants. Although neither the scope nor the cause of the security breach has yet been determined, the attack has been described as both “massive” and “sophisticated.”

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