Today, February 3, after many weeks of uncertainty about the fate of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary duty rule, President Trump signed an executive order that eliminates the April 2017 applicability deadline and directs the DOL to review the rule further. The White House press secretary and members of the White House National Economic Council sharply criticized the DOL as having “exceeded its authority” and calling the fiduciary rule “a solution in search of a problem.”
On television, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, formerly with Goldman Sachs, explained that the fiduciary duty rule would limit consumers’ ability to invest their money as they saw fit. Others, like Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized the executive order, fearing that without the fiduciary duty rule, consumers would be cheated out of their life savings.
What happens next? In the short term, industry participants may feel some temporary relief as the April 2017 applicability deadline is off the table. Broker dealers and financial advisors’ relationships with their customers will not change – the suitability rules will stay in place.
But, in the long term, many believe the industry has already turned the corner on fiduciary duties and that the DOL rule will return, perhaps in a different form. The Securities and Exchange Commission and industry trade associations may propose alternatives to the DOL rule: something less than a full-fledged fiduciary standard, but something more than FINRA’s current suitability rule requires.
Given the enormous amount of time and money firms have already spent to ramp up for the DOL rule, pushing for a higher, but not quite fiduciary, standard may be an easier pill to swallow.