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Technology can help advisors deal with impending DOL fiduciary rule

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In early 2015, the Department of Labor (DOL) introduced a proposal to expand the definition of a fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The impending rule aims to ensure that retirement advisors abide by a fiduciary standard, putting their clients’ best interests before their own profits and protecting investors from backdoor payments and hidden retirement investment advice fees.

If this proposal is adopted – which it likely will be within the next month or so – it will dramatically change the retirement finance field and transform the way advisors are compensated.

First and foremost, the new rule will be costly to financial firms. Economic Consequences of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Proposed New Fiduciary Standard, a study conducted by the Financial Services Institute with Oxford Economics, projects that the rule will cost nearly $3.9 billion to implement, with startup costs ranging from $1.1 million for the smallest companies to $16.3 million for larger firms.

And as the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman stated in its report Distribution Disruption: Impacts of the Department Of Labor Fiduciary Standard for US Life Insurers, the annuities market will experience the most tectonic shift of any other market, as these products tend to have high embedded commission levels.

“From a new business perspective, more than half of the new money flows to the Variable Annuity and Fixed Index Annuity market and about a quarter of Fixed Annuity sales are from qualified pools of retirement assets. This is ‘ground zero’ for the DOL’s campaign,” says the Oliver Wyman report.

Although there’s been plenty of political opposition over the past year or so, the DOL is pressing ahead with the rulemaking. So what can advisors do right now to prepare themselves for the changes?

As it turns out, adopting the right technology can make a world of difference. Technology can help advisors in three critical ways:

Ease regulatory compliance. According to PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC), technology will play an important role in helping advisors comply with the business processes and procedures required under the new rule. In particular, many proposed disclosure requirements will present a challenge to firms as the vast majority don’t have relevant cost and fee information easily accessible in a central database. “Therefore, we recommend that firms begin to identify gaps in data collection and establish sources to collect fee information, including contracts, amendments and prospectuses,” says PwC, which also recommends building a new-user interface to include a calculation engine — a valuable tool to help advisors produce appropriate and timely pre-sale and post-sale customer disclosures.

Maintain profitability. Under the impending rule, advisors are questioning how they will make money managing accounts for smaller clients. The right software can make advisors more efficient, driving down costs and avoiding losses.

Ensure fiduciary responsibility. Under the new rule, advisors must demonstrate that their advice is in the best interest of each client. Financial planning software can help advisors better understand their clients by gathering and aggregating their personal and financial information to create a clear customer profile, and guide clients to the right products – as well as supporting the advisor’s fiduciary position by documenting the rationale behind each recommendation.

In short, a combination of technology tools – including risk assessment, portfolio management, and customer relationship management (CRM) software – can make the impending shift much more manageable for advisors as they prepare for DOL legislation.