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Fiduciary Standard Regulation Will Back Agents

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Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Mary Schapiro is signaling that the concerns of captive insurance agents will be addressed in a regulation imposing a fiduciary standard on the  sale of investment products.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, the substance of which was confirmed by her office, Schapiro said that the regulation, when published for comment in the near future, will be “business-model neutral.”

The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), which has been lobbying the issue fiercely, appeared to welcome Schapiro’s comments.

In a statement, Robert Miller, NAIFA president, said the trade group “shares Chairman Schapiro’s view that a new standard of care rule should respect the business differences between investment advisers and broker-dealers.”

Miller said that, on average most NAIFA members serve investors with household incomes of less than $100,000 per year.

“Therefore, our fundamental concern is that the potential additional costs and increased potential for liability of applying a ‘one-size-fits-all’ fiduciary standard of care to the broker-dealer business model could result in middle market investors having less access to affordable financial services that are currently being delivered by our members.”

Schapiro also said that the Dodd-Frank Act provision which gave the agency the authority to impose a fiduciary standard permits the SEC to protect clients without imposing a blanket ban on certain brokerage activities, such as the sale of a limited range of investment products provided by a specific broker-dealer.

“The statute makes it clear that principal-trading and proprietary products are OK, that charging brokerage commissions is OK,” she said.

She said the agency will probably not complete work on the proposed rule until sometime in 2012.

Brokers are now subject to a “suitability” standard, which means they must sell products suitable to their customers.

Investment advisors and others are held to a fiduciary standard, which means they must act in the best interest of their customer.

In a study released in January, the SEC recommended brokers adopt a standard as stringent as the one for investment advisors while acknowledging differences in their roles.

Schapiro said the study “set it up pretty well” for the rulemaking. “There’s a lot of flexibility for us to do something that I think would really advance the ball in investors’ interests,” she said.

She added that her agency’s economists continue to analyze the costs and benefits of a new standard. “We’re still working on trying to put the data together and work constructively with market participants and investors on what a rule might look like,” Schapiro said.


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