Savvy RIAs are waving the fiduciary flag

Regardless of DOL gridlock, RIAs are embracing their fiduciary status and promoting it to prospective clients

Apr 3, 2017 @ 2:00 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

When Joseph Tatusko sent out a press release last month announcing the launch of his new advisory firm, Mill Hill Advisors, the focus was on "fiduciary money management," which speaks volumes about how mainstream the idea of fiduciary has become.

Mr. Tatusko, who has worked as a registered investment adviser for more than 15 years, admits he is jumping on a bandwagon by leveraging his fiduciary status. But he also admits it is a bandwagon that didn't even exist a year ago before the Department of Labor unveiled its controversial rule.

"Today, the idea of being a fiduciary is more prominent than ever," Mr. Tatusko said. "It's all over the news, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of it."

It might be too early to actually measure the benefits of leveraging the fiduciary status, but there is no denying that savvy RIAs are milking it for all its worth.

Even as haggling by industry lobbyists and Washington politicians threatens to alter and delay the DOL rule beyond this month's official launch date, large parts of the RIA industry have already moved past the actual rule and are embracing what the rule represents.

Greg Carlson, chief executive of the $1.6 billion Carlson Capital Management, said fiduciary duty has always been a part of his business, but only recently has he started seeing the advantages of actively promoting it to new and prospective clients.

"We just sent out a communication to all of our clients, explaining that we have always acted in their best interest, and we also mention it in our digital and print marketing," he said. "We are absolutely getting more inquiries about whether we're a fiduciary."

JC Abusaid, president and chief operating officer at the $2.5 billion Halbert Hargrove Global Advisors, said he has never seen so much attention paid to the topic of fiduciary duty.

"Finally, people are paying attention and asking smarter questions," he said. "We used to have to spend a lot of time explaining to clients what a fiduciary is."

Since the fiduciary buzz has kicked in, Mr. Abusaid and his colleagues have added the fiduciary label to their business cards, and "it is now all over our website, and even in our email signatures."

Vince DiLeva, senior partner at the $6 billion Signature Estate & Investment Advisors, said he is also noticing a lot more questions from clients about fiduciary duty.

"We sent out a newsletter last quarter that was all about the fiduciary rule and what you should know about it," he said. "In a sense, that was marketing, but we also reminded people that we've been doing things this way since 1997 and we're not going to change."

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