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Finalized rule allows employees more access to retirement advice

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The U.S. Department of Labor finalized a rule Friday that will allow employees in 401(k) type plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) more accessibility to investment advice from employer-sponsored financial services firms.

“Access to professional investment advice is particularly important now for workers as they manage their 401(k) plans and IRAs in changing and volatile financial markets,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao in a statement.

The rule includes a regulation that implements the new statutory exemption for investment advice added to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by the Pension Protection Act (PPA) and a related class exemption. One of the ways investment advice may be given through the new exemption, according to the U.S. Labor Department, is through the use of a computer model certified as unbiased. The other way is through an advisor compensated on a “level-fee” basis. Several other requirements also must be satisfied, including disclosure of fees the advisor is to receive. Fee-leveling will be implemented to remove incentives for biased investment consulting.

“Millions of American workers are responsible for managing their 401(k) and IRA accounts. The department took extraordinary steps to engage a broad spectrum of participants, employers, plan fiduciaries and others throughout the rulemaking process,” said Bradford P. Campbell, assistant secretary of the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration. “The final rule expands access to investment advice without compromising the critical protections for plan participants and beneficiaries.

Writing for Dow Jones Newswires, Darrell A. Hughes and Melanie Trottman say lawmakers believe the new rule could “undermine worker savings by allowing financial services firms to offer investment advice that could benefit the firms instead of employees.”

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., concerned about the rule said, “We are disappointed that the Bush administration moved forward to enact a new regulation that will make it harder for workers to receive fair and honest advice when making key financial decisions about their futures.”


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