This is my second article about the interesting observations “hidden” in the preambles to the fiduciary regulation and the exemptions.

The recommendation of investments and insurance products to plans, participants, and IRAs will be subject to the best interest standard of care. (The best interest standard is a combination of ERISA’s prudent man rule and duty of loyalty.)

The legal requirement that advisers make prudent recommendations and act with a duty of loyalty is well understood in the retirement plan world, but is new to IRAs.

Also, it’s commonly conceded that the prudent man rule is more demanding than the suitability standard. But that begs the question, what is required of the adviser?

The DOL answered that question in the context of fixed indexed annuities, and the answer may be surprising. (For other insurance products and investments, the DOL would likely say that a similarly rigorous approach is required.)

Here’s what the DOL said:

Assessing the prudence of a particular indexed annuity requires an understanding of surrender terms and charges; interest rate caps; the particular marked index or indexes to which the annuity is linked; the scope of any downside risk; associated administrative and other charges; the insurer’s authority to revise terms and charges over the life of the investment; and the specific methodology used to compute the index-lined interest rate and any optional benefits that may be offered, such as living benefits and death benefits. In operation, the index-lined interest rate can be affected by participation rates; spread margin or asset fees; interest rate caps; the particular method for determining the change in the relevant index over the annuity’s period (annual, high water mark, or point-to-point); and the method for calculating interest earned during the annuity’s term (e.g., simple of compounded interest).

Actually, there’s more than that. For example, based on ERISA precedence, an adviser would also need to evaluate the financial stability of the insurance company and its ability to make the annuity payments (e.g., 20 or 30 years from now).