DOL Fiduciary Role Players

In response to: InvestmentNews’ Fidelity’s approach to DOL fiduciary rule rankles some 401(k) advisers

With the DOL fiduciary mandates effectively going into action, with a formal government action, financial service providers have begun to solidify their stances.

The question a provider asks themselves – Do I want to be a fiduciary to the plan sponsor and/or the participants?  Now, if you’re a provider that works with financial advisors and their clients, the answer is not black or white.

401(k) plans have been around nearly 40 years. During that time, they have been sliced one thousand ways, centering around different value propositions of the respective firms.  And for those of us that have spent a career working with financial advisors, we all know each advisor is unique in how they want to service their clients.

However, in lieu of the impending DOL fiduciary rule, some of the largest providers in the space have taken it upon themselves to push past their financial advisory network and strong-arm plan sponsor into a fiduciary offering that may not align with the advisor of record on the plan, nor the plan sponsor’s preference.  Firms have gone as far as sending 60-day negative consent letters to plan sponsors, whereby the they will be the named fiduciary for the plan sponsor as well as their employee participants.

Now, it can be applauded that firms taking this approach are looking out for their plan sponsor and participant clients.  But, where does that leave the advisors who want to help facilitate these important roles in the relationship?

There is still a lack of clarity about how far the “implemented” DOL fiduciary standards will go, but it is clear that the best interest of all parties will be front and center.  Many advisory firms have built their practices around this, dating back long before the DOL stepped in, simply to be pushed aside by their “partner” record-keeping and custodial providers, who want to play that role instead.  This will leave many advisors displeased, scrambling to articulate where they stand in their plan sponsor client relationships.

We believe that advisors should be enabled to play the roles in their client relationships where they feel they add the most value to their clients.  If s/he feels value is driven by the fiduciary services provided, and s/he wants to provide that service, that should be encouraged.  If the value prop is around investment selection, education, or advice, then they should provide that.  As the rule solidifies, and advisors get more comfortable with the new regulations, we will see increasing numbers of advisors offering fiduciary services to their list of client value add.

To encourage growing and enabling advisors, providers need to remain flexible around their platform and service capabilities.  The DC/DB plans need to be configured to compliment the services and advisor wishes to provide.  When servicing advisors, plan sponsors, and participants, we emphasize to advisors to think of us as an extension of their firm.   They provide the services they want to provide, and we round out the rest, as fiduciary or otherwise, acting as their technology and business support.

Just as the industry is constantly evolving, so are advisors.  We, as technology and services providers need to be there to equip advisors for the future of their businesses.