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Regulation and Compliance > Federal Regulation > SEC

The Cost of a Fiduciary Standard

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A uniform fiduciary standard implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission would cost brokers a total of $8 million in new compliance costs: $3 million to update their up-front disclosure documents and another $5 million for the initial build-out of compliance systems and training, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

But Ira Hammerman, SIFMA’s senior managing director and general counsel, said that BDs “are generally willing to incur” the above mentioned additional compliance costs “in order to arrive at a new fiduciary standard.”

In its comment letter to the SEC in response to the agency’s March 1 request for data on the costs and benefits of a fiduciary rule, SIFMA said that it surveyed 18 of its member firms—12 large BDs and six regional ones—to arrive at the $8 million in additional compliance costs under a fiduciary standard. SIFMA said that it focused on two specific areas where its members believe they would be hit hard by a fiduciary rule: the costs of developing and maintaining a disclosure form similar to Form ADV Part 2A, and the costs of developing and maintaining new supervisory systems, procedures and training programs to implement the new standard.

SIFMA noted in its comment letter that as the SEC has not issued a “concrete” fiduciary proposal yet, “it is not possible to adequately identify and estimate all the costs of establishing a uniform fiduciary standard.”

Charles Schwab, however, flipped the scenario around, telling the SEC in its comment letter what it would cost for registered investment advisors to comply with BD rules should the agency decide to include “harmonizing” BD and advisor rules in its fiduciary rule proposal.

Depending on how broadly the commission would apply harmonized rules, “whether to some or all RIAs,” they could cost the RIA industry a whopping $1 billion, Christopher Gilkerson, Schwab’s senior vice president and deputy general counsel, told the SEC.

The Financial Planning Coalition, using Cerulli Associates data from 2007, told the SEC in its comment letter that the conversion of non-fiduciary, fee-based brokerage accounts to fiduciary, nondiscretionary advisory accounts would impose “little if any additional cost or burden.”

The coalition noted that Cerulli found that, even after the broad market declines of 2008, the client assets in nondiscretionary advisory accounts rose by almost 75% from approximately $329.6 billion at the end of the conversion process in 2007 to $574 billion in the third quarter of 2012.

Meanwhile, the coalition wrote, “the level of fees charged to customers for this service model at the major national firms has stayed flat or decreased since 2007. In sum, the experience of converting fee-based (non-fiduciary) brokerage accounts to nondiscretionary advisory (fiduciary) accounts demonstrates that the expense of operating under a fiduciary model has not prevented the number of accounts and level of assets in those accounts from continuing to grow.”


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