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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Reform--and Fiduciary--Not Dead, Yet

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As the financial reform bill continues to work its way through the process of reconciling the Senate and House versions, the fiduciary duty for all financial advisors is still at least a possibility. Although at this point, it’s fate is far from certain, the “F” word recently received some much needed support from the Obama Administration itself, while our industry leaders seem to be content to congratulate themselves on a job well muffed.

In a strategy that’s hauntingly reminiscent of Richard Nixon declaring victory in Vietnam while ordering a massive U.S. retreat, the members of the Financial Planning Coalition appear to be busily patting each other on the back for getting its Financial Planning Act dumped onto the slagheap of “further study.” “The financial planning study being in the bill was a victory of sorts,” Dan Barry, director of government relations for the FPA was recently quoted as saying. “We’ve made substantial progress.”

Adding her own spin, Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, managing director of communications at the CFP Board (and the reputed mastermind of Coalition’s ill-fated campaign) said: “The study is an important first step in closing the significant gap in the regulation of financial planners.”

Of course, when the fiduciary standard was similarly referred out of Senator Dodd’s version of the Bill for “further study,” it was widely regarded by fiduciary advocates (among which the Coalition numbers itself) as a major setback. Ah, well. You say, “potato,” I say, “surely you must be joking.”

Still, as the Congressional conference committee (scheduled to be announced June 8) debates whether to include the House’s fiduciary duty in the final reform bill (among myriad other things), the White House through the Treasury Department has forcefully weighed in to see that it will be.

Last week, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin detailed the five key points the Administration considers essential for an acceptable reform package. At the top of the list was the fiduciary standard. “We believe that retail brokers offering investment advice should be subject to the

same fiduciary standard of care as investment advisors,” Wolin said at the FINRA national conference on May 27, as reported by IA’s Melanie Waddell, “and we will work to include that provision in the final bill. Clients receiving investment advice don’t distinguish between broker/dealers and investment advisors and neither should the law.”

That pretty much says it all. Hopefully, the Administration still has the political capital to influence the outcome of the reform bill. Unfortunately, the financial planning community’s leaders seem to be too busy extolling the virtues of defeat to weigh in at this crucial stage in the history of consumer-oriented financial advice.


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