The ongoing battle to create a fiduciary standard for the financial advice industry began in earnest in 2010 and by the year 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) had approved a rule that would require anyone offering retirement investment guidance to operate strictly in the clients’ best interest. However, the implementation of the so-called “fiduciary rule” suffered a series of delays and was eventually vacated by a March 2018 circuit court ruling.
Why is this failed piece of legislation, and the battle to stop it, still important to discuss? The DOL laid out a picture of America’s advice crisis in a widely distributed Fact Sheet that highlights flaws with the current system:
While many advisors do act in their customers’ best interest, not everyone is legally obligated to do so and some do not. Many investment professionals, consultants, brokers, insurance agents, and other advisers operate within compensation structures that are misaligned with their customers’ interests and often create strong incentives to steer customers into particular investment products. These conflicts of interest do not always have to be disclosed and advisers have limited liability under federal pension law for any harm resulting from the advice they provide to plan sponsors and retirement investors. (Fact Sheet, United States Department of Labor, April 2012)
Unfortunately, the protection, education, and empowerment of retirement investors occasionally run contrary to the more creative applications of capitalism. The still -legal “suitability standard” of care, which states that an investment product or recommendation must only be a suitable (not necessarily best) choice for the client, sets the stage for potential violations of client trust. Though far inferior to the “best interest standard” desired by the DOL, as long as the suitability standard is acceptable then conflicts of interest will continue to be built into the very structure of retirement planning.
To the advisors at SYM, the fact that so many practitioners are willing to publicly fight the obligation to put client interests before their own speaks volumes to the weight of a true fiduciary relationship. And while the future of the DOL’s fiduciary rule is anybody’s guess, it’s good to know that Registered Investment Advisors have been operating for decades at standards far higher than the DOL rule hoped to implement. This is the strictest duty of care within the U.S. legal system.
SYM’s commitment to ethical behavior doesn’t stop at our legal duty. Every employee is required to abide by a firm-wide code of ethics overlay designed to shield clients from even subtle conflicts of interest. At the individual level, many SYM employees are also bound to additional codes of ethics as articulated by the CFP (Certified Financial Planner®) Board, the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute, the Indiana CPA (Certified Public Accountant) Society, the Accredited Investment Fiduciary® board, the FPQP (Financial Paraplanner Qualified Professional TM) board, and the Indiana State Bar Association.
Your SYM team will pursue a combination of investments designed to provide the optimal combination of after-fee, after-expense, after-tax returns in the context of a portfolio’s risk profile and your financial situation, and we will not participate in fee mechanisms which could introduce a conflict of interest. We operate in this manner because we believe it is the right way to conduct business.
To discuss your options with a SYM advisor, please feel free to reach out by phone or email, or visit us at sym.com. If you feel this information may be of use to someone else, you are welcome to share this sheet with a friend or colleague.