An Obama-era rule designed to ensure that people get unbiased financial advice went into effect June 9 – mostly.
The Department of Labor issued this rule in April 2016, which requires financial advisers to provide retirement investment advice that’s in the best interest of the client, essentially treating advisors like doctors and lawyers.
But the Trump administration halted its implementation and ordered a re-examination which could ultimately reverse the statute’s intended goal. The two-month delay alone – from April until June – has already cost people almost $4 billion over the next 30 years, says an estimate by the Economic Policy Institute.
While the rule goes into effect, certain compliance provisions do not, nor will the Labor Department enforce it until January 2018. During that time, the department has indicated it will consider additional changes and delays, further weakening the long-overdue protection.
“This is a raw deal for families seeking to rebound from the Great Recession who expect financial institutions and government to be accountable for protecting their interests,” said Joe Valenti, director of consumer finance at the Center for American Progress in a statement. “Savers and retirees expect advisers to put their needs first, and the [Obama] Department of Labor has done just that.”
Without the statute, advisors were free to recommend investment plans based on their own financial interest, not what was best for the client. These conflicts of interest rob working people of an estimated $17 billion a year, said EPI.
The re-examination comes after exhaustive study by the Obama Labor Department which included hearings, stakeholder meetings, thousands of public comments and a detailed review of the academic literature, EPI reported. It found that “adviser conflicts are inflicting large, avoidable losses on retirement investors, that appropriate, strong reforms are necessary, and that compliance with this final rule and exemptions can be expected to deliver large net gains to retirement investors.”
With more and more employers only offering defined contribution plans like 401(k)s instead of defined benefit plans like pensions, how people invest their savings can determine whether they truly have retirement security.
Some financial organizations have implemented the change anyway.
"The reality is a lot of brokerages who expected this rule to go into effect already changed from commission-based to fee-based fiduciary's, but it's still worth asking, 'Are you a fiduciary?'" Consumer Reports' money editor Tobie Stanger told WRAL, a North Carolina-based news station.
To see how much you could be losing because of conflicted advice, check out this map from the EPI.