DOL’s Perez: Fiduciary Rule to Be Wrapped Up in ‘Coming Months’

On call with reporters, Perez and White House economist talk of new retirement proposals to be include in FY2017 budget

Labor Secretary Tom Perez. (Photo: AP) Labor Secretary Tom Perez. (Photo: AP)

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Monday that the Labor Department hopes its rule to change the definition of fiduciary on retirement advice will “reach a conclusion in the coming months,” and that the Obama administration is set to include additional measures to help workers save in the fiscal 2017 budget, to be released Feb. 9.

On a Monday evening call with reporters, White House National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients noted that as President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union address, his administration has been promoting retirement savings in two ways: protecting consumers and promoting access.

DOL’s fiduciary — or conflict of interest — rule is intended to allow workers to “get retirement advice that’s truly in their best interest,” Zients said. 

Zients also noted DOL’s plan to boost workers’ access to retirement plans through state-run retirement programs as well as the launch of the administration’s myRA in November.

Perez said the new proposals to be pitched in the fiscal 2017 budget include “working with Congress” on ways to make it easier for employers to join multiple employer plans (MEPs) as well as an auto-IRA proposal.

Not everyone is enamored of auto-IRA proposals, at least on the state level. In a briefing with reporters Tuesday morning at FSI’s OneVoice conference in Orlando, David Bellaire, the independent broker-dealer advocacy group’s executive vice president and general counsel, said that while FSI “supports connecting” workers with retirement plans, it opposes auto-IRAs, such as have been proposed in Illinois, New Jersey, Maine and other states. Bellaire said auto-IRAs, in which workers who do not have employer-sponsored retirement plans are forced into state-run plans, present “issues for the states,” but FSI is focused on the role of advisors. “You need financial advisors to help workers plan” for their retirement, Bellaire said. 

As to DOL’s conflict of interest rule, Perez said on the call that DOL is “neck-deep in the review” of the comments that flooded in during the lengthy comment period and via the hearings, and that DOL hopes the rule will "reach a conclusion" in the coming months.

He noted that a “big part” of the rulemaking is “to make sure when rollover decisions are made, investors are making informed decisions.”

Industry officials believe the arrival of DOL’s final rule at the Office of Management and Budget is imminent, though the East Coast blizzard could delay it. The rule could go through an expedited review once at OMB, which means the final rule could be out before April.

The bills introduced in mid-December to replace DOL's rulemaking, the Strengthening Access to Valuable Education and Retirement Support (SAVERS) Act and the Affordable Retirement Advice Protection (ARAP) Act, are expected to be marked up as early as the first week of February. But industry officials say while the bills will likely move through the House successfully, Obama will never sign them.

In the same briefing Tuesday morning at FSI’s OneVoice conference, FSI President and CEO Dale Brown reiterated the IBD group’s opposition to the DOL rule. “The proposal as written is unworkable,” Brown said flatly. While saying he did not want to make excuses for what seems to be FSI and other groups’ failure to stop the rule, he said that Obama’s expressed support for it “was a game changer,” which along with “continued gridlock in Congress” allowed the DOL rule to progress.

Bellaire, who oversees FSI’s advocacy operations, said that “at the Department of Labor there’s a perspective that doesn’t jibe with reality,” while current FSI Chairwoman Amy Webber said the DOL rule would create “three potential” fiduciary standards.

When asked whether FSI might take legal action to stop the rule from being enforced, Brown said “we’re not ruling out any action.”

--- Check out Who Wins, Who Loses With New DOL Rule? $3 Trillion in Play on ThinkAdvisor.

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