The U.S. Department of Labor’s revised proposed rule for defining a fiduciary has been delayed … again. Most recently expected in August, the Labor Department is now predicting January 2015. And, the rule has a new name: The Conflict of Interest Rule for Investment Advice.
As a refresher, the proposed rule would broaden the definition of fiduciary to include a variety of brokers and consultants that provide information (either directly or indirectly) to participants of individual account retirement plans (e.g., 401(k) plans) where the information provided may influence their investment decisions. At the same time, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has been working on a proposal to apply a uniform fiduciary standard of care to broker-dealers and investment advisors who provide advice to retail customers.
The original proposal, published in October 2010, received a great deal of criticism, primarily from the financial services industry, and was withdrawn in September 2011. Initial delays in the re-proposal stemmed from questions about the economic impact of the proposed rule and concern that the rule would increase the cost of financial advice and limit access to investment education — leading to bad investment decisions by participants and, in turn, increase the costs of investment products, services and advice.
The delay was made known through the publication of the Labor Department’s regulatory agenda, which was published in the Federal Agenda on May 23. Notably, the delay pushes the release date of the controversial rule beyond the 2014 mid-term Congressional elections in the U.S.
During his confirmation hearings last year, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez had promised to meet with stakeholder groups who have been involved in this rulemaking process. Some view the delay as an opportunity for the Secretary to do so. While no explanation has been issued by the Labor Department, the delay may be attributable to the need to fine-tune and work through the technical and complex provisions of the rule — particularly efforts to ensure that the rule does not make it difficult for small retirement accounts and small businesses to get access to investment assistance.