Monday, May 23, 2016

DOL Fiduciary Rule P II: The SEC Story

While the previous post discussed the Department of Labor’s (DOL) fiduciary rule, it is not the only government agency tackling the issue. In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Act, which authorized the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to create its own uniform standard of care for financial advisors. To aid in this endeavor, it also authorized the creation of an Investor Advisory Committee (IAC) whose purpose was to submit recommendations to the SEC regarding, amongst other things, the regulation of securities products and the protection of investor interests.[i] In November 2013, the IAC issued a report endorsing, “that advisory services offered as a part of a transaction-based securities business can and should be conducted in a way that is consistent with a fiduciary standard of conduct.”[ii]

SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White supports tighter regulations for those making funding recommendation to investors. At an industry conference, Ms. White stated that it was her “’personal view’” that brokers and those for whom the Commission provides oversight should be required to put “clients’ interests ahead of personal gain.”[iii]  Arthur Levitt, SEC chairman from 1993 to 2001, believes the SEC should have addressed the issue long before now, given the complexity of the products being presented to investors by brokers. “’I do not accept the notion that a broker is an order taker. If he’s a good broker, he’s much more than that.”[iv] Industry leaders, including Kenneth Bentsen, president and chief executive of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, have expressed support in the SEC taking the lead in this matter. “’They’ve got the technical expertise.’”[v]

In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations, Chairwoman White would not offer a timeframe for the completion, but made it clear that the SEC would be issuing its own fiduciary standards. Though the purposed rules may be similar, she stated that the SEC’s would differ from that of the DOL’s, even though the SEC did provide “’substantial technical assistance’” in crafting the DOL version.[vi]

Mark Trupo, DOL spokesman, claims there was close coordination between the two departments and that, “engagement with the SEC was comprehensive, and that the SEC’s input was incorporated into the plan.”[vii] The SEC refused to comment. Others, however, were more vocal in their questioning in the validity of the statement.

In his report, The Labor Department’s Fiduciary Rule: How a Flawed Process Could Hurt Retirement Savers, Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, claimed the DOL rule failed to address 26 significant concerns posited by the SEC. These included issues regarding the best interest contract exemption, “’conflicts with federal securities laws and [Financial Industry Regulatory Authority] rules, and a lack of cost-benefit analysis of alternatives.’”[viii]

So why hasn’t the SEC issued its own rule yet? It may have to do with administrative structure. While the DOL operates under a single administrator, the SEC has a five-person commission, complicating the approval process. Some believe the make-up of this commission would lead to a 3-2 vote on any fiduciary rule, given the current SEC commissioner and incoming commissioner, both republicans, are likely to vote against such a measure.[ix]

Only time will tell when the SEC releases its own fiduciary rule and how greatly it will differ from that of the DOL. Until then, one can only expect continued speculation and debate, a debate that many believe is long overdue.

[i] U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (2012). “Investment Advisory Committee” [Electronic format]. Retrieved from:

[ii] U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (2013).  “Recommendation of the Investor Advisory Committee Broker-Dealer Fiduciary Duty” [Electronic format]. Retrieved from:

[iii] Baer, J. & Ackerman A. (2015, March 17) SEC Head Backs Fiduciary Standards for Brokers, Advisors [Electronic format]. Retrieved from:

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid

[vi] SEC, DOL Fiduciary Rules Will Likely Be Different, White Says (2016, March 22). [Electronic format] Retrieved from:

[vii] Barlyn, S & Lynch, S (2016, February 24) U.S. Labor Dept., SEC Clash Over Retirement Advice Rule: Report [Electronic format]. Retrieved from:

[viii] Senator Blasts DOL for Ignoring SEC’s Fiduciary Rule Concerns (2016, February 24). [Electronic format]. Retrieved from:

[ix] Why SEC Fiduciary Rule May Be ‘Unattainable’ (2016, March 10). [Electronic format]. Retrieved from: