The Trump administration’s attempt to dismantle the fiduciary rule: A year in review
February 3, 2018 marks one year since President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum to “review” the fiduciary rule. This was just two weeks into his administration, a clear signal that undermining this common sense rule is a top priority for the administration.
If fully implemented, the fiduciary rule would require that financial professionals presenting themselves as investment advisers act in their clients’ best interests. The rule is needed because “conflicted” advice leads to lower investment returns, causing real losses for workers saving for retirement—an estimated $17 billion a year—for the clients who are victimized. The rule would prohibit common practices such as steering clients toward investments that pay the adviser a commission but provide the client a lower rate of return. It was exhaustively researched by the Department of Labor and debated over several years, survived several court challenges, and was completed in 2016. It was supposed to be implemented on April 10, 2017.
However, unscrupulous players in the financial industry are working to kill the rule so they can continue fleecing retirement savers—and the Trump administration is doing everything it can to help them out. Here’s the rundown of the fiduciary rule shenanigans from Trump’s first year:
February 3, 2017: President Trump issues a Presidential Memorandum ordering the Labor Department to needlessly reexamine the fiduciary rule.
April 4, 2017: DOL announces a 60-day delay of the implementation of the rule, from April 10, 2017 to June 9, 2017. Retirement investors who get bad advice during the delay will face lasting consequences. We estimated that the delay would cost retirement savers $3.7 billion over the next 30 years.
June 1, 2017: Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it was considering regulations that could, in theory, protect a larger group of investors—not just those saving in tax-favored retirement accounts—from conflicted investment advice. Since the SEC has historically been reluctant to reign in unscrupulous industry practices, and since it does not have authority to regulate insurance products or people advising retirement plan sponsors (as DOL does under the fiduciary rule), its belated involvement was not cheered by consumer advocates.
June 9, 2017: Finding no legal excuse to change or rescind it, major provisions of the fiduciary rule were implemented, but important compliance provisions built into the rule’s exemptions were delayed until January 1, 2018, and DOL made clear that it would not enforce the rule until then. We estimate that the additional delay in the enforcement provisions will cost retirement savers $3.9 billion over the next 30 years.
July 6, 2017: DOL published a Request for Information, seeking public input on further delaying the date at which the rule becomes fully applicable beyond January 1, 2018. It also sought information that “could form the basis of new exemptions or changes/revisions to the rule.” In other words, DOL was searching for justification to further delay full implementation of the current rule to give them time to propose a new, weaker rule.
November 27, 2017: DOL published a further 18-month “delay” of key provisions of the fiduciary rule, a move that we estimate will cost workers saving for retirement $10.9 billion over the next 30 years. And notably, the word “delay” is used loosely here, since the rule is being delayed with the clear intent of never fully implementing it. Instead, the Trump administration is simply buying time until they can publish a weaker more industry-friendly rule.
All told, we estimate that these delays will cost retirement savers $18.5 billion over 30 years. And as noted above, the Trump administration is clearly planning to further dismantle or weaken the fiduciary rule through the rulemaking process at DOL and the SEC. The administration’s willingness to dismantle a rule that would enhance the retirement security of American workers is a testament to how far they are willing to go to serve unscrupulous elements within the financial industry who want to keep bilking workers saving for retirement.