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1st Global to Keep Commissions in Retirement Accounts

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Despite legal moves by some organizations and possible action by President-elect Donald Trump to derail the new Department of Labor fiduciary standard, wealth-management firm 1st Global says it plans to let its nearly 1,000 affiliated advisors sell commissionable products, though the firm will reduce the number of funds available for use in retirement accounts when a commission is charged.

The sales of these commission-based products will be permitted in accounts that meet specific requirements and will require a best interest contract (BIC) before such products are sold, according to the Dallas-based company, which partners with CPA firms nationwide.

“The biggest question mark for the financial services industry right now is what may happen to the DOL rule under a Trump presidency,” said 1st Global President David Knoch recently at a conference. “At 1st Global, 82% of our advisors are already held to a higher standard because of their CPA, CFP, AIF or other designations, and we will continue to adjust our business to be compliant with the rule as it stands today.”

1st Global has more than $7 billion in assets under management.

“Regardless of what happens to the rule, we believe the financial services industry must do more to move toward transparency and consumer choice, so that’s where we are heading,” Knoch added.

In addition, the company says it is rolling out a new fee-based investment program for clients with investible assets of $5,000 and up, as well as new tools for advisors to use in order to comply with the DOL rule’s expected implementation in April.

“Commissionable products are often the lowest-cost option for clients, which is why we’re preserving this choice, and we also know that a level-fee fiduciary option is a great way for families to save and invest,” said Holly Peritz, 1st Global’s assistant vice president of wealth platforms, in a statement. “We’re also announcing a new advisory program that gives even more clients access to these programs,” Peritz explains. “Ultimately, I want to ensure our advisors are equipped with a variety of strategies that are compliant with the fiduciary rule.”

The new fee-based advisory program is being added to 1st Global’s Investment Management Solutions (IMS) platform, which is open to accounts with balances of $5,000 or more.

“We are embracing the spirit of the DOL fiduciary rule and seeking to provide investors with clear and transparent avenues to build their wealth,” said Rob Jackson, 1st Global’s senior advisor of wealth platforms and architect of the new program, in a press release. “This new small account solution is an understandable, uncomplicated way for them to access the IMS platform.”

The company also says it has added client-facing materials for advisors to access online; this resource center was launched in April and is being led by 1st Global’s Fiduciary Rule Task Force. And it is supporting advisors who want to adapt a new fee-based advice model, called Method 10 Seasonal Planning, and its associated financial planning platform.

“There are so many forces affecting change in the wealth management industry,” said Jeff Magson, 1st Global executive vice president and client experience officer, in a statement. “We are committed to helping our financial advisors evolve their practices to a fully fiduciary world, and we will continue to seek out ways to put them and their clients in the best positions to succeed.”

In addition, the firm has been urging some non traded REIT sponsors to lower upfront commissions.

What Other Firms Are Doing

Capital One Investing said recently that is moving to a fee-only model for advised retirement accounts. Commissions within these IRAs will be eliminated by April 10, when the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule is set to become effective. Its announcement followed similar moves by other brokerage firms.

For instance, less than a month after telling its advisors that it would not offer new advised, or commission-based, brokerage retirement accounts starting in April 2017, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch said Nov. 2 that effective immediately purchases of mutual funds in existing IRA accounts are no longer allowed.

Mutual funds can be bought in Merrill Lynch Investment Advisory Program accounts and nonretirement brokerage accounts. For advisors, the shift means that commissions tied to mutual fund sales in brokerage retirement accounts will no longer be part of their compensation plans.

(Related: The BICE Is Not a DOL Fiduciary Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card)

“We are implementing this decision in advance of the DOL rule’s applicability date, to ensure as seamless and positive experience for our clients and advisors as possible,” the firm explained.

According to Merrill, clients looking for alternatives to commission-based funds in their IRAs can turn to the firm’s Investment Advisory Program (IAP), Merrill Edge Select Portfolios, the Merrill Edge self-directed channel and Merrill Edge Guided Investing (beginning in January). “Each of these offerings will be augmented on an ongoing basis to ensure choice for our clients,” it said.

Commonwealth Financial Network said in late October it would no longer offer commission-based products in retirement plans as of Dec. 31.

Moving in a different direction, Cambridge Investment Research has said it will continue to offer commission-based retirement accounts after the new DOL fiduciary rule goes into effect next year. The other firms that made this announcement recently include Raymond James Financial (RJF), Ameriprise Financial (AMP), Morgan Stanley (MS) and Cetera Financial Group.

The Fairfield, Iowa-based broker-dealer, which has some 3,000 affiliated advisors, says it plans to apply the Best Interest Contract provision announced by the DOL for some commission-based accounts, while the discretionary advisory business will be supported through level fee platforms.

Commission-based retirement accounts will be acceptable at Cambridge, however the commissions must be “levelized by each pre-defined investment category so that all similar investment options have the same compensation structure,” according to the independent broker-dealer.

“We think every firm should have a unique value proposition while serving the best interests of the investing clients. Serving the needs of the client must clearly be the highest priority, along with observing regulatory requirements …,” said President Amy Webber, in a statement.

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