Clayton declines to set timeline for final SEC advice rule

Agency's chairman says, 'We have work to do,' following investor roundtable in Baltimore

Sep 21, 2018 @ 1:38 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Jay Clayton won't set a deadline for the agency to complete its work on investment advice reform.

"I have no specific date set yet," Mr. Clayton told reporters Thursday night in Baltimore, following an investor roundtable focused on the proposal. "It's not this month, probably not next month. We have work to do."

The SEC received thousands of comments letters as well as feedback in several investor roundtables like the one in Baltimore. Mr. Clayton said the agency needs to sift through all of that information.

While the SEC is considering whether to modify the proposal, the makeup of the five-person commission is shifting. Republican member Elad Roisman joined the panel earlier this month. Democratic member Kara Stein, whose term ended last year, must depart by December.

Mr. Clayton sidestepped a question about whether he is willing to issue a final advice reform rule with a commission that is at less than full strength, if a replacement for Ms. Stein is not confirmed by the Senate before she leaves. No one has been nominated.

"We're going to keep working on it until we get it right," Mr. Clayton said.

Maryland Securities Commissioner Melanie Senter Lubin said the SEC still has a long way to go.

"It's important for the SEC to hear investor concerns about the entire regulatory proposal and to hopefully address those concerns … with a re-proposal so that we can continue to have these discussions," said Ms. Lubin, who attended the roundtable.

The session drew approximately 50 participants, including SEC staff. In addition to Mr. Clayton, other commissioners in attendance were Ms. Stein, Mr. Roisman and Democratic member Robert Jackson Jr.

The centerpiece of the three-part package is the so-called Regulation Best Interest, which requires brokers to prioritize their clients' best interests rather than their own compensation. The proposal also includes disclosures meant to clarify the differences between investment advisers and brokers in standards of care, fees and services.

"I tried to read the rule," one person said. "This is very complicated stuff."

The proposal maintains separate regulation of investment advisers, who currently must meet a fiduciary duty, and brokers, whose suitability requirement would be changed to the best-interest standard.

The Baltimore audience was given a model customer relationship summary — or Form CRS — for financial professionals who are registered both as brokers and investment advisers.

"Is it clear enough for you to understand the relationship you have?" Mr. Roisman asked. The consensus answer seemed to be "no."

One participant suggested the fees for products and a financial professional's services be listed in a standard way like "calorie counts" on food menus.

"It changes the dynamic because you have something that you can compare," he said.

Another participant encouraged the SEC to launch a "plain-English campaign" to help investors understand their choices when hiring a financial professional.

Someone else recommended that Form CRS include an indication of what investments a broker typically recommends.

"Investors don't see the B-D's approved-product menu," she said.

Mr. Clayton, as he has in other roundtables, said he favors producing a video on the SEC website to help investors better understand the advice sector.

"'Hey, Jay, take the risk of not being precise,'" Mr. Clayton said in interpreting sentiment at the roundtables. "'Try to give us some straight-talk on how we approach this.' I'm hearing that loud and clear."

That message resonates with Mike Stefanowitz, another attendee of the Baltimore roundtable.

"They need to provide information that's easily understandable to a lay person — not an attorney — when they're going to invest a lot of their money, their retirement," he said. "They heard from people where the rubber meets the road."

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