New SEC regulation aims to improve broker disclosure
A new rule promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission known as Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) goes into effect June 30. It promises to give investors a clearer picture of the fees and other costs they are paying, as well as the disciplinary history of brokers and advisers who are giving financial advice, although it fails to clearly define “best interest.”
Reg BI requires that brokerage firms, stockbrokers, investment advisers and anyone else purporting to offer investment advice abide by certain required disclosures. As a result, if you already have a brokerage account or an advisory relationship, you’ll soon be receiving two important documents. They will be sent to you and prominently displayed on websites. It’s up to you to read the documents to check up on your financial professional.
The new regulation requires disclosure of fees and costs, as well as elimination or disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and lowering of certain sales incentives or commissions. This disclosure document must be sent by anyone acting as a broker in the recommendation or sale of securities.
The second document is a new Form CRS, a required filing for all brokers, salespeople and financial advisers. It discloses any reportable legal or disciplinary history, and it must be provided to all retail customers and prospective clients, including for advice on 401(k) rollovers and/or withdrawals. Though this is an SEC rule, FINRA, the industry self-regulatory agency, will be enforcing it.
Form CRS must be sent to existing customers by June 30. It must also be sent when a new account is opened, when the disclosures change or at any time a customer requests it. Currently registered investment advisers who are not brokers will be submitting the same disclosure form as Part 3 of their annual ADV form submission.
The information won’t be buried in fine print. The SEC requires that Form CRS be the first to be given to customers. And it requires the broker or adviser to initiate a discussion about these issues.
You can expect these conversations to start immediately. And to protect themselves, brokerage firms and advisers will be taping these calls! There is already a small industry built up to help financial firms document their disclosures and conversations with clients or potential clients.
Note: Reg BI disclosures do not apply to insurance salespeople who offer fixed-index annuities that promise upside market potential with downside protection against loss. It’s buyer beware on these products!
Does Reg BI solve the problem of trust in financial advisers? Not by a long-shot says Pam Krueger, founder of Wealthramp, an online service that matches carefully vetted fee-only financial advisers with potential clients. Krueger says, “Consumers should expect to get real investment advice and planning only from qualified, carefully vetted advisers who are legally fiduciaries and thus do not accept commissions or share revenue on any products.” (Full disclosure: I participate in a podcast at www.FriendsTalkMoney.org with Krueger, host of PBS’ “MoneyTrack” show.)
Despite these new and helpful disclosures, the financial revenue model for brokerage firms and many advisers still relies on commission-based sales of products or ongoing revenue streams. That’s why the industry has embraced the new Reg BI, despite all the additional costs. Their revenues will not be materially impacted by these requirements.
Investors should recognize that you can’t legislate morality, whatever the revenue model. It may be worth paying a broker for the good advice and hand-holding he or she provides. But now no one will be able to hide behind the generic term “financial adviser” without providing the required Form CRS information along with the payments and conflicts disclosure.
It’s still your money and your responsibility to carefully consider all investment advice and recommendations. Or just go to a fee-only adviser (RIA) who is already held to the highest fiduciary standards. And that’s The Savage Truth.
(Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including “The Savage Truth on Money.” Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.)© 2020 TERRY SAVAGE