Washington INsider

Washington INsiderblog

Mark Schoeff Jr. looks at what's really happening on Capitol Hill - and the upshot for advisers.

Sep 5, 2014, 3:41 PM EST

Chairman White's political will may determine fiduciary-duty outcome

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Like everything else in Washington, the outcome of the debate over whether to raise investment advice standards for brokers will come down to politics — or, more precisely, political will.Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White has said that she wants the agency to decide by the end of the year whether it will proceed with a rule that would establish a uniform fiduciary duty for retail investment advice. Alternatively, the SEC may choose to pursue other policy changes that fall short of a rule.If the SEC moves ahead with a rule, the outcome would likely be a regulation that forces brokers to act in the best interests of their clients, a bar that investment advisers already meet. Brokers currently adhere to a suitability standard that allows them to sell higher-priced products as long as they fit a client's investment needs.The Dodd-Frank financial reform law gave the SEC the authority to promulgate a fiduciary-... Read full post

Jul 21, 2014, 4:36 PM EST

Can an adviser affiliated with an insurance company be fee only? Yes.

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

For nearly two years, the issue of compensation descriptions has roiled the investment-advice business. The topic becomes even trickier when insurance licenses are thrown into the mix.Whether investment advisers like it or not, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. rules on planners with a broker-dealer affiliation are clear. They cannot claim fee-only status — even if they charge their clients only fees — if they work for a firm that has a B-D arm, because that side of the house can collect commissions.With insurance affiliation it's less clear. For planners who don't sell insurance but work in states that require insurance licenses in order to provide advice on the products, there's a wrinkle. Some states make licensing contingent on an adviser's appointment with an insurance firm, which obviously can collect commissions. The appointment affiliates planners with a commission-taking company. That... Read full post

Jul 11, 2014, 2:13 PM EST

Political battle over 'tax and spend' unfolds in ways that help, hurt advisers

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

The two U.S. legislative branch chambers are supposed to be equal. The House, however, has been holding sway against the Senate in ways that are both good and bad for investment advisers.The most recent example occurred Thursday, when the Senate Finance Committee dropped a provision from its highway funding bill that would have required the distribution of inherited individual retirement accounts within five years of the death of the account holder.Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had originally included it to help raise revenue to pay for road projects over the next 10 years that may be halted if the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money later this summer. (See also: Limits to stretch IRAs floated to pay for highway repairs)In a statement in late June, Mr. Wyden said he had “bent over backward to come up with the most benign, agreeable offsets possible” and that the bill included measures to “boost ... Read full post

Jun 13, 2014, 2:47 PM EST

Mr. Adviser goes to Washington

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

More than two dozen members of the Investment Adviser Association chose an auspicious time to roam Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with lawmakers and their staffs during the organization's Lobbying Day. The House was buzzing with intrigue about the downfall of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a primary election earlier in the week — the first time anyone in a position that high had lost in a primary. Mr. Cantor's demise will increase partisan tension in Washington and further ensure that not much gets done in in the capital. For investment advisers, whose issues are usually ignored by lawmakers who don't understand their industry, it makes pushing their agenda even more difficult. But Bernie Clark, executive vice president of advisor services at Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., hasn't lost faith. He enthusiastically participated in IAA's Lobbying Day, educating legislators and their aides about the characteristics of the... Read full post

Apr 14, 2014, 5:10 PM EST

When a regulator like Rick Fleming sounds more like a politician, it could be a good thing

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

When the new Securities and Exchange Commission's investor advocate introduced himself publicly last week, he sounded more like a politician than a regulator. For investor protection, that could be a good thing.In his first public statement, Rick Fleming, talked about being raised by a single mother who was taking care of four kids while working as a school secretary.“I grew up poor,” Mr. Fleming told an April 10 meeting of the SEC Investor Advisory Committee. Like many politicians who debate at the U.S. Capitol, a few blocks away from the SEC headquarters, Mr. Fleming put his office in context by telling a story and establishing the narrative of helping the common person.“Going from a place like that to a place around the table like this — if you've done that, you know the American Dream is not just some sappy sentimental idea. It's something that I believe in,” Mr. Fleming said. “Investing is an... Read full post

Mar 21, 2014, 5:03 PM EST

SIFMA, Chamber give thumbs down to Finra's data collection proposal

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Two more financial industry groups have called on Finra to rethink a proposal to collect reams of brokerage account information that the organization says will help it better detect fraudulent sales practices.The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the trade group for large broker-dealers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed comment letters Friday and late Thursday, respectively, opposing Finra's Comprehensive Automated Risk Data System. They join the Financial Services Institute Inc., a lobbying group for independent broker-dealers, in criticizing the idea.The broker-dealer regulator put out a concept proposal in December. The comment deadline was Friday.SIFMA warned that financial firms would be burdened with significant technology and compliance costs and that customers' financial privacy would be put at risk.“CARDS would require firms to develop new systems and/or dramatically modify existing systems to... Read full post

Mar 14, 2014, 4:43 PM EST

Borzi counters fiduciary criticism calmly

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

When she walks into a room, it is sometimes necessary to stand up to see Assistant Labor Secretary Phyllis Borzi. But the regulator knows how to stand tall when facing financial industry opponents.Ms. Borzi's willingness to engage in a remarkably forthright way with critics of the fiduciary duty rule that she is championing was on display this week in Washington, where she appeared at a Financial Services Roundtable event focused on retirement security.She stood alone in defending the pending re-proposal of the rule, which would expand federal retirement law investment advice standards and require more financial advisers to act in the best interest of clients saving for retirement. Such a change is necessary to protect workers and retirees from conflicted advice as they build their own retirement nest eggs, Ms. Borzi said.The original measure was proposed in 2010 but withdrawn in the midst of strong backlash from the financial industry,... Read full post

Feb 4, 2014, 6:02 PM EST

Advocate says no SEC action may be preferable on fiduciary duty

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

One of the newest Securities and Exchange Commission members last week made it clear that the SEC is split on whether to proceed with a rule that would raise investment advice standards for brokers.Following a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I asked SEC member Michael Piwowar where he stood on a regulation that would impose a universal fiduciary duty for anyone providing retail investment advice.He was forthright in stating his doubts about the need for a rule that would force brokers to act in the best interests of their clients, a bar that investment advisers must now meet but a distinction that is lost on most investors.“Even if it's the case that more confusion does lead to worse outcomes, it's not clear to me that that's enough to justify engaging in rule making,” Mr. Piwowar said. “At that point, we need to consider whether we can do more on the investor education front and the disclosure front.... Read full post

Jan 16, 2014, 1:46 PM EST

SEC on compliance: Do what you say you're doing

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Whether a topic is appearing on the Securities and Exchange Commission's examination priority list for the first time, such as wrap-fee programs, or is making an encore appearance, such as dually registered advisers, the agency is looking at the intersection between what is good for the adviser and what is good for the client.“Conflicts of interest are the primary focus in a disclosure-based system,” Jane Jarcho, SEC national associate director of the investment adviser and investment company examination program, said this week in an interview. “As a fiduciary, you have to disclose any conflicts or potential conflicts.”That theme runs throughout the list. Here is Ms. Jarcho's take on some of the items.Wrap-fee programs: The SEC will assess whether financial advisers are fulfilling fiduciary and contractual obligations to clients when using these vehicles. A particular concern is whether buy-and-hold clients are... Read full post

Jan 7, 2014, 1:12 PM EST

Fate of tax extenders will be clear only after long wait

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

As Congress goes back to work this week, broad tax reform appears to be dead, and the fate of tax extenders may not be resolved until late in the year.It is shaping up to be another wait-and-see exercise on tax policy, which will once again make tax planning a challenge for investment advisers and their clients.Just before going on its holiday recess, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on a budget framework for the next two years that set spending levels and prevents a government shutdown. But the accord avoided tax reform.“It tells us that they haven't found any common ground on the direction of tax policy for the next year, or they would have addressed it,” said Timothy Steffen, senior vice president and director of financial planning at Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.The budget agreement didn't contain a road map for broad tax reform nor did it deal with the 57 so-called tax extenders, or tax breaks that have been... Read full post

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