Outside-IN

Momentous regulatory action requires adviser input to protect industry, investors

Schwab recently brought RIAs to Capitol Hill as part of the Investment Adviser Association's Lobbying Day to boost lawmakers' awareness of the profession

May 27, 2016 @ 10:56 am

By Nick Georgis

The regulatory landscape related to financial advice continues to evolve, and many changes either proposed or underway will potentially have significant implications for the independent advice model and for the consumer. We saw debate about these implications leading up to the Department of Labor's long-anticipated ruling to address conflicts of interest in retirement advice.

We were glad to see that the DOL altered the original proposal in a manner that Schwab had advocated, creating a more streamlined exemption for “level-fee fiduciaries.” This recognizes the important distinction between independent advisers and others who give investment advice to retirement savers.

(More: Everything you need to know about the DOL fiduciary rule as it develops)

Now attention is turning to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has signaled intent to propose its own fiduciary rule early next year. The proposal could go further and include the harmonization of additional rules for broker-dealers and independent advisers.

We've been here before. In 2013, Schwab actively stood against the SEC's proposed concept of applying broker-dealer-like rules to investment advisers. We advocated that the agency decouple the link between a uniform fiduciary standard of conduct and more extensive rule harmonization, with the view that such a ruling could have far-reaching and unintended consequences for independent advisers and their investor clients.

Because so much remains at stake, Schwab recently joined forces with our RIA clients and headed to Capitol Hill as part the Investment Adviser Association's Lobbying Day. The team met with members of Congress to share our point of view on the issues that are important to independent advisers as small-business owners in local communities. We believe our conversations with lawmakers are important in helping them understand the unique attributes of the independent RIA model and the implications of legislative and regulatory activity. We applaud appropriate regulation that champions the investor. We believe the fiduciary model is good for investors, and we support efforts to help ensure regulatory decisions are not unnecessarily burdensome and potentially harmful to consumers.

There is no better way to convey this message to Congress than from independent advisers themselves. Our Lobbying Day meetings allowed lawmakers to hear directly from their constituents, the business owners who could be most impacted by legislative decisions.

In the conversations, the team reminded lawmakers that even before the DOL rule, RIAs have always been fiduciaries, held to the highest standard of care and required to act in the best interest of their clients.

In addition to providing financial advice and planning to millions of Americans, the RIA industry is also a growing, vibrant part of our economy. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the category of personal financial adviser are being added to the economy much faster than the average for all other occupations. Against this backdrop, the independent RIA segment is currently the fastest growing of all the advice categories. Indeed, the RIA industry, which has already grown from $1.6 trillion to more than $4 trillion in assets under management in the past decade, is projected to continue to gain market share while other models may decline.

There are currently 10,895 SEC-registered investment advisers serving investors in congressional districts across the country. When constituents and stakeholders speak out, regulators listen. This was illustrated recently when the final DOL fiduciary ruling was significantly altered from its original form as a result of industry advocacy efforts including 3,000 comment letters, 100 meetings and four days of public hearings over the past year.

Lobbying Day is important for the RIA industry, but advocacy isn't done in a day. The continued growth and success of this industry means that we must each raise our voices independently, so that together we can ensure that the collective interests of RIA firms and their clients are heard loudly and clearly when the rules are being made.

Nick Georgis is senior vice president of business consulting services at Charles Schwab Advisor Services.

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