Would reforming use of the title 'adviser' mesh with the DOL fiduciary rule?

Title reform is on every power player's lips these days, but would such a change conflict with the Labor Department's regulation that is already partially enacted?

Mar 10, 2018 @ 6:00 am

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

If a major portion of a Securities and Exchange Commission rule on investment advice standards is a limitation on who can hold themselves out as a financial adviser, it shouldn't set up a clash between that regulation and the Labor Department's fiduciary rule, experts said.

Although so-called title reform isn't an explicit part of the DOL rule, it does mesh with the measure, according to Michael Koffler, a partner at Eversheds Sutherland.

He points to one portion of the DOL regulation that was implemented last year: the impartial conduct standards. One of them states that advisers cannot make misleading statements to their clients.

"It's not a stretch for the DOL to view the use of such titles by an individual who is not supervised by an investment adviser as a violation of the impartial conduct standards," Mr. Koffler said. "It would seem to be a logical conclusion of the DOL rule."

Title reform would have little impact on the DOL rule because the regulation targets the kind of advice that's given, according to George Michael Gerstein, counsel at Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young.

"The statute is based on whether [the adviser's] actions are fiduciary in nature," Mr. Gerstein said.

An SEC move to clear up adviser titles complements the DOL rule, regardless of how much that measure is revised at the end of the current review that's being conducted under a directive from President Donald J. Trump, according to Jim Allen, head of capital markets for the CFA Institute.

(More: Fiduciary groups urge SEC to prevent brokers from using 'adviser' title)

"I don't see that this affects in any way the DOL rule discussions. Whether DOL stays the same or changes in other ways, [title reform] still needs to be taken care of," Mr. Allen said.

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