Note: I have put a “Portfolio Review Letters Kit” as well as other resources for you at www.billgood.com/managechange. If you have not yet converted to fees, you need this and other resources.
The Department of Labor is expected to soon issue rule changes to “address conflicts of interest in retirement advice.” The change is likely to be issued in the first quarter so that the regulations can be set in stone before a new administration takes office.
Who will likely be forced out of commission business into fees?
I put this question to Lou Harvey, chairman of Dalbar, arguably the very top market research firm in financial services. Lou has been heavily involved in following the DOL’s proposed changes to fiduciary under ERISA. He has also created training courses for people going through this transition. Visit his site at train.dalbar.com.
What Your Peers Are Reading
Here’s his reply (in italics):
Lou: Great question … but hard one to answer since everyone will have tradeoffs. Based on the DOL proposal, I see advisors that do IRA or ERISA business dividing into three groups:
- Fiduciaries… who charge fees and use their commissions to pay a portion of these fees. This means taking on the full fiduciary responsibility and being able to charge a fee that is commensurate with that role. Fiduciaries will have to demonstrate prudent decision making on their clients’ behalf.
- BICEs… (Best Interest Contract Exemption) who have contracts to act in clients’ best interest and disclose all compensation. These advisors keep their commission structure but are required to only present products/solutions that can be shown to be in the client’s best interest (may often be the lowest commission or no-commission). BICEs will have to demonstrate that they in fact, acted in their clients’ best interest.
- Salespeople… who reduce their services to eliminate all advice and recommendations and maintain commission business. This group can sell any product within FINRA regulations (suitability, fair pricing, etc.) but cannot give advice or make recommendations. The question is whether this drop in service will cause them to lose clients.
I followed with this question: Suppose an advisor has 300 clients. 20% of these are already in fee-based accounts. The other 80% of clients have paid a commission but nevertheless receive advice. Some advisors give advice on 401(k) and do not charge for it knowing they will roll it over when the client retires.
Lou: The 20% are already fiduciary relationships so the only significant change here is a BICE for any rollovers. For non-IRA and non-ERISA clients no change is necessary. Whether the 401(k) clients pay directly or through investment managers a BICE will be required for each. The recommendation to do a rollover will require a BICE. I think that most clients will end up requiring a BICE unless these clients are converted to fiduciary accounts with dollar-for-dollar fee for commission change.
Would the FA have to sign a BICE with each individual client?
Would he have to go 100% or 100% commission?
Lou: Technically and legally it can be a mixed bag, but it might be impossible to get this straight. Imagine the advisor trying to work with a client on one basis for the IRA and a different mix of products for the non-IRA. Or figuring out if a client who calls is going to get the fiduciary treatment, the BICE treatment or the FINRA treatment! Seems impractical to me and most advisors will end up with one arrangement and serving all clients that way.
Oh, one other thing: one-on-one education is advice. A good sales presentation should always include educating clients and prospective clients so they can make intelligent decisions. That seems to mean you have to be a fiduciary to educate.
If you are not yet close to 100% fee-based, get started.
The industry, with or without the kick from DOL, is going that direction. What follows is a strategy to get it done. Normally, it takes at least two years to convert to fees. Because you only have a year, be prepared to suffer some.
There are three strategies to convert to fees.
Cold Turkey: This involves a drastic change of business model. On a given day, you accept no more commission business. The income reduction plan is so severe few are able to survive it.
Top Down Blend: In this method, the FA starts with top clients and converts them first while accepting commission business from bottom clients. This also entails a severe income reduction plan, although not as severe as Cold Turkey.
Bottom Up Blend: This is a safer, realistic and practical way to wrap up the conversion to fees without joining the ranks of the destitute.
Mathematically, Bottom Up Blend is the only strategy I could find where you can convert to fees without an income reduction. But again, my calculations were for two years. You have one or less.
Your best income forecast with this strategy is: income is flat.
Know the Blend
The term “blend” means that during the transition, some portion of your business will still be commission until it is phased out.
To make a relatively painless transition, you will be conceptually breaking your business into two separate businesses. One will be growing, the other shrinking. Together their revenue is flat during conversion.