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White Promises ‘Clarity’ on Fiduciary

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While SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White said in mid-November that the agency had not yet decided “whether to do something or what to do” regarding a fiduciary rulemaking, White said she planned to provide “clarity” as to her position regarding a uniform fiduciary rule in the “short term.”

Deciding whether to press ahead on a uniform fiduciary rule is “something I think is enormously important to do,” White told attendees at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s annual conference in New York.

When asked at the SIFMA event why the agency has delayed making a decision regarding a fiduciary rule, White said that there are “very diverse views” at the commission regarding such a rule. The “inquiry as to what to do” about a fiduciary rule “doesn’t end with saying, ‘Let’s have a uniform fiduciary duty,’” as there are “a lot of different things that can mean.”

Added White: “Care needs to be taken to ensure we’re not harming investors by driving away service providers in the brokerage space.”

White had said earlier this year that the agency would make a “threshold decision” by year end on whether to move ahead with a rule to put brokers under a fiduciary mandate.

Fiduciary advocates have been urging White to move ahead with a fiduciary rulemaking with a split 3-2 vote, as the two Republican commissioners, Daniel Gallagher and Michael Piwowar, have signaled in public statements their opposition to a fiduciary rule. But a split vote may not be necessary as Piwowar seems to have recently changed his tune.

“As demonstrated by the endurance and passion of arguments on all sides” of the fiduciary debate, Piwowar said in a late September speech, the fiduciary rulemaking question “is not just really hard to answer. It is really, really, really hard—with three ‘reallys.’”

Piwowar said that he had “not yet reached a conclusion on whether or what new obligations should be imposed” on financial services professionals.

“But not just any rulemaking will do,” said David Tittsworth, the former president and CEO of the Investment Adviser Association, adding that an SEC rulemaking in this area has “potential pitfalls.”

A rule that waters down the “well-established Advisers Act fiduciary duty would serve neither the interests of investors nor investment advisory firms,” Tittsworth said. “Similarly, a rule that applies one type of fiduciary standard for ‘retail’ clients and a different standard for other clients would be counterproductive.”


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