As I work with broker-dealers and RIA firms, certain patterns are developing in their efforts to satisfy the requirements of the DOL’s fiduciary rule and the exemptions.

This article looks at some of those “solutions” and comments on the areas where there is some agreement . . . or at least a majority opinion.

The DOL’s rule will, when finalized, regulate investment advice to plans and participants, investment advice to IRAs, and recommendations about distributions from plans and IRAs.

In this post, I look at the decision being made about advice to plans.

Interestingly, it appears that the changes will impact plans much less than IRAs and rollovers. The plan solutions fall into two categories. The first is that RIAs and broker-dealers will provide level-fee investment advice to plans. In some of those cases, a broker-dealer may need to act under its RIA registration. The level fee will be accomplished, by and large, either through expense recapture accounts or by payment from plan assets.

Note that, for purposes of this article, the words “level fee” actually refer to a “levelized” fee. For example, the broker-dealer or RIA could charge a flat fee (in terms of basis points or dollars) to the plan and be paid by the plan. Or, the broker-dealer or RIA could receive additional payments (for example, insurance commissions or 12b-1 fees) and either offset those against the flat fee or pay those amounts over into the plan. Both of those have the effect of “levelizing” compensation. But, it’s not enough to just do it. There needs to be an agreement to offset or pay over.

A second common solution is that advisers will be required to work with providers who have third-party 3(21) nondiscretionary and/or 3(38) discretionary investment advisers on their platforms. For example, representatives of a broker-dealer would be required to recommend that plan sponsors use the platform’s third-party fiduciary adviser to select and monitor the plan investments. In that way, an adviser and the broker-dealer will not be fiduciaries for purposes of selecting the investments. Note, though, that under the fiduciary rule, a recommendation of a fiduciary adviser (e.g., the 3(21) or 3(38) platform adviser) is, in its own right, fiduciary advice.

That’s a quick update for now. As this article suggests, these circumstances and decisions are evolving.