Sen. Gary Peters brings broker background to work every day on Capitol Hill

Michigan Democrat resists ripping up DOL fiduciary rule but would be open to some changes

Jul 25, 2017 @ 2:46 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., has always had some concerns about the Labor Department's fiduciary rule, but that doesn't mean he wants to see the Trump administration rip it up and start over.

Mr. Peters' position represents the challenge financial industry opponents have in winning over Democrats to support legislation moving in the House that would kill the regulation. That bill and a similar measure introduced by Sen. Johnny Iskason, R-Ga., would require the votes of eight Senate Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

But Mr. Peters, a former broker, has qualms about eliminating the rule that was partially implemented in June. It is now undergoing a DOL review directed by President Donald J. Trump that could result in changes.

"We have to deal with the reality of what we have now," Mr. Peters, 58, said in an interview with InvestmentNews. "We have a rule in place. I don't want ideology to drive the debate."

That's doesn't mean the former branch manager for Merrill Lynch and PaineWebber in Rochester, Mich., isn't open to revisiting the regulation, which requires brokers and advisers to act in the best interests of their clients in retirement accounts.

"Financial advice should not be something that's only available to wealthy individuals," Mr. Peters said. "I want to make sure the rule does not inhibit financial advisers from doing what they do best: providing financial advice to people from a wide range of economic backgrounds."

The DOL is collecting comments on whether to delay the Jan. 1 implementation deadline for the remainder of the rule and is seeking input in 18 areas it is exploring in its review.

A group of the highest-ranking Democrats on key House and Senate committees affecting financial services sent a letter to DOL last week urging the agency to adhere to the Jan. 1 implementation date and preserve the rule. Mr. Peters didn't elaborate on modifications he'd like to see.

"The devil's in the details," Mr. Peters said. "It depends on what the changes are. Some of my [Democratic] colleagues would be less interested in making changes than I am."

Mr. Peters knows more about the industry that the DOL is governing than most of his colleagues on either side of aisle. He worked as a broker from 1980-'02 before he was elected to the Michigan state senate. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 and won his Senate seat in 2014.

He said that his background as a broker influences how he approaches his job as a legislator. He calls financial advisers a "unique breed." That description goes beyond their grounding in markets and the economy and extends to business acumen that comes from running their firms, which often are small enterprises.

"I bring that business background to work [on Capitol Hill] every day," Mr. Peters said. "I try to check ideology at the door [and operate] in a practical, common-sense way."

Even though Mr. Peters doesn't serve on the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over policies affecting advisers, he is the sponsor of Senate legislation that would ease rules on the dissemination of brokerage research on exchange traded funds.

"It adds to the financial literacy of our clients," Mr. Peters said. "They'll have an understanding of what they're investing in and why it's important."

Mr. Peters, a champion of financial literacy, wrote an amendment that was included in a 2015 education bill to boost funding and availability of such programs.

"Young people need to learn about the power of compound interest," Mr. Peters said. "It's a lot easier to save early than save later."

When it comes to taxes, Mr. Peters advocates lowering them for companies that pay dividends.

"It leads to stability and smarter long-term decisions by management, which will help workers and make the economy grow," he said.

Not many former advisers or brokers serve in Congress, but Mr. Peters said they all should make their presence felt on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures.

"It's important for financial advisers to be active politically," he said.

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