The old adage goes: When it rains, it pours. However, that doesn’t necessarily imply a bad thing. All it means is that things happen in bunches. Good things. Bad things. Old things. New things. Borrowed things. Blue things.
This autumn has been a series of rather fortunate events. Everyone has goals. Sometimes they’re ambitious. We call those dreams. When I started writing, I had several goals – achievements I could earn myself just with grit, determination and a handy keyboard. I also had dreams – accomplishments I could only earn by winning the respect of others. Among my dreams included speaking before the Academy of Behavioral Finance and Economics as well as speaking before a group of senior bank trust officials. Both of these represent my two different (but deep) professional roots.
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And, by coincidence, both events occurred within weeks of each other this fall. I wrote about my experience in the wonderful world of behavioral finance a while back. This week I turn to what I discovered in route to outlining my session for The Fiduciary and Investment Risk Management Association (you can read about the topic in “401(k) Fiduciary Liability in a Multi-Vendor Environment,” FiduciaryNews.com, Oct. 15, 2013). Most of those in attendance at the first of two training sessions I was asked to speak at were trust auditors.
This is a big deal.
I cut my fiduciary teeth in the bank trust business. I hold it dear to my heart. These are the folks that gave us what many advisors strive to achieve – the fiduciary duty of loyalty. Trust auditors take this fiduciary duty very seriously. Sometimes I think they take it more seriously than government regulators, but that’s another story. To be asked to speak as an authority before this esteemed group is an honor beyond description.
As I was preparing my notes, I tried to find a theme that would link the potential fiduciary liability among nearly all types of 401(k) vendors. Since the DOL focuses on OPM (other people’s money), it was easy to uncover. A fiduciary breach, at least in the DOL’s mind (and possibly many others), occurs when there is a security breakdown in the money flow of the plan.
Once this system had been identified, it became obvious there were two types of possible breaches. The first used to get all the press, but now seems innocuous compared to the second. The first can also be more easily mitigated by systematic changes that catch the breach more quickly and remedy it almost immediately. The second, well let’s just say there’s a certain opinion that says the second isn’t a breach at all. They call it a business model.
Let’s review them one at a time.