How does a national fiduciary firm view the impending Department of Labor fiduciary rule?
Our sister site, ThinkAdvisor, talked with Billy Lanter, a fiduciary investment advisor at Unified Trust Co., to find out what being a fiduciary means and how he sees the DOL rule impacting the industry.
Unified Trust, a Lexington, Kentucky-based company with $4 billion in assets under management, has been a national fiduciary since it was founded in 1985. Lanter has worked at the company for more than eight years.
In late January, the DOL’s fiduciary rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for its mandatory review, and could be released before April.
While not all the details of the rule are public, Lanter, speaking broadly, said “we’re in favor of a fiduciary, higher standard of care.”
“What we’re leery of a little bit – we just have to wait and see when the [regulations] come out – we don’t want a watered-down standard where you end up trying to delineate between what degree are you a fiduciary,” Lanter added. “A fiduciary should be a fiduciary, and that should mean certain things.”
Lanter explained what being a fiduciary should mean.
“What’s the number one reason someone hires a financial advisor? It’s not performance, it’s not fees,” Lanter said during a visit to ThinkAdvisor’s New York office. “Year after year, study after study shows there’s one dominant factor in choosing an advisor: Trust. If you remove barriers to trust – by being a fiduciary, offering full fee transparency, no proprietary products and those types of things – you remove barriers so now [the client can say] ‘I know what’s going on. The relationship we’re going to have, it’s going to be one that I can trust.’”
Lanter also commented on what he sees as the potential impact the fiduciary rule could have on the industry.
It’s a hard question to answer without knowing what the final regulations are.
“I think you’re going to have a couple camps: You’ll have those that are already operating under a standard that value what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re going to be very well-positioned … to take advantage of the regulations that are coming.”
Lanter thinks Unified Trust falls in that group.
“You’ve got another camp: These companies are large enough where they’ll be able to make the shift, make the transition, and it’s probably not going to run them out the door,” Lanter added. “But I do think there’s a segment of the industry right now, where the regulation, the cost, the shift in business model might be such that there’s some folks that leave the industry at the end of the day.
Similar expressions have been echoed across the industry by others. Recruiter Jon Henschen recently wrote for ThinkAdvisor that the DOL fiduciary rule could accelerate broker-dealer closings.
“You might have a smaller industry a decade from now, I don’t know, but hopefully … a better quality advice-driven industry,” Lanter said.
Lanter’s colleague Jason Grantz, an institutional retirement consultant for Unified Trust, recently wrote on the firm’s blog about how he sees the DOL fiduciary rule affecting the industry.
His opinion is that over time advisors will “absorb this highly onerous set of rules and a new ‘business as usual’ will result,” and the industry will see new retirement plan business models created.
One model that he’s already starting to see is what he calls the “retirement plan specialist.” This specialist would partner with “unaffiliated non-specialist advisors, almost like an advisor ‘wholesaling’ to another advisor,” Grantz writes.
“These new independent specialists will be those that can run effective conflict-of-interest-free retirement plan practices at a profit without the need to work with individuals beyond the plan relationship,” according to Grantz. “If they partner with referring or nonaffiliated wealth management advisors, a true symbiosis can occur and stay within the boundaries of the new rules.”