BALTIMORE — Advisers perplexed by the ins and outs of the Department of Labor’s new regulation may soon get a road map, according to an agency official.

The department will be issuing FAQs for advisers and wealth management firms this fall at an unspecified date, and will continue to do so on an ongoing basis, says Timothy Hauser, one of the agency's deputy assistant secretaries.

"We have received a lot of questions and we have drafted quite a few answers. We really can't wait [to issue just one FAQ] until we receive every single question," said Hauser, who spoke at the final session of the FPA's annual conference here.

[Image: Bloomberg]
(Bloomberg News)

Advisers also can't wait to ask their questions. After his session ended Friday afternoon, more than two dozen planners lined up to pepper Hauser with queries, frustrations, even words of support. He was still addressing their concerns 40 minutes after the session ended.

Hauser declined to specify which questions the department would answer first in its FAQs, but he emphasized that the Labor Department's focus was on helping advisers comply with the rule.

"This is a major reform. These are significant changes. The Department of Labor is aware of that. Our goal in the near term is to help people get in compliance," he said.

The first aspects of the new regulation — characterized as byzantine by its opponents — go into effect in April 2017, and firms must be in full compliance by January 2018.

"During that period, I expect our aim will be to help people comply," Hauser said. "I'm not saying that if we see something egregious that we won't follow up with some action."

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But if firms and advisers were demonstrating that they were trying "in good faith" to be in compliance, then the department would be there to assist them in that effort, he added.

At its core the fiduciary rule "requires that you give advice that is prudent, that you do not subordinate the client's interest to your interests, and that you charge reasonable compensation," Hauser said.

"We don't think that's a huge ask."


Ron Rhoades, a planner who is now an assistant professor of finance at Western Kentucky University, said that the rule is sparking a major transformation in the industry.

"We might see fee-based accounts shift from about 40% of the industry to about 70% in a very short period of time," he said.

Rhoades added that some firms appear to be "sticking their heads in the sand" when it comes to the rule's implications.

"Some firms think that they can use [best interest contract] exemption and continue to do what they are doing. That is certainly not the case," he said.

Meanwhile, some advisers and firms may be wondering if they should be preparing for more regulations. SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White has said that a SEC fiduciary rule is a priority for the regulator.

Hauser said that the Labor Department gave "enormous" thought to how the two regulators’ rules would interact. However, the SEC has been saying it would create a fiduciary standard for years.

And Rhoades said it would probably take a new presidential administration, a new – and very determined – SEC chief to produce such a rule, and even then he expressed skepticism.

"We're probably a couple of years away from seeing an SEC rule," Rhoades said.