Many financial advisors are shaking off the uncertainties of 2017 and getting ready to consider making the moves that they had put on hold. In my view, this means more advisors will be making strategic moves in the next year even as packages remain off the stratospheric highs of 2015-16.
For more than a year, the financial advice community has been debating the impact of the fiduciary rule introduced under the Obama administration's Department of Labor. Major wirehouses hit the pause button on recruitment and sliced recruiting packages. Advisors considered whether and how to revamp their practices to adhere to the new proposals. Faced with a shifting regulatory landscape, many were afraid to make even lateral moves to rival firms-let alone drastic business model changes.
This has all changed now that the Trump administration has announced that it would be reviewing the fiduciary rule, moving to delay implementing the rule's final provisions by 18 months. Critically, the new administration has signaled that it is likely to roll back a provision that would in the view of many encourage class action suits.
My conversations with both advisors and managers have shifted in recent weeks. A new calm and focus has replaced the worry. And also an acknowledgment that the world has shifted more definitively toward a fee business ― and that Wall Street has hit the reset button on recruiting packages.
The shift is largely the result of a sense that no one is out to "get" advisors ― a distinct feeling under the Obama administration. There were two details in the fiduciary rule that were particularly concerning to the brokerage community. One, a provision permitting class action lawsuits for advisors who did commission-based business in retirement accounts ―even if this was the kind of business that their clients wanted. And two, a change in how regulators viewed back-end bonuses, which the previous crew of regulators worried would encourage churning.
Over the past decades, Wall Street has cleaned up its act vis-a-vis retail investors. Gone are the Bahamas cruises that celebrated how many underperforming but highly profitable internal funds brokers could foist on to their clients. Many of the concerns of the fiduciary rule are being addressed by brokerage firms; the rise of fee-based business is a testament to that. But advisors feared what they considered undo hostility from the Obama administration, which contended that unscrupulous advisors were costing investors $17 billion per year in retirement savings.
Firms scrambled to preemptively implement policies to insulate themselves from potential lawsuits, resulting in widely disparate policies between firms. Some firms flat out prohibited commission business in retirement accounts while others decided to restrict mutual fund sales in retirement accounts to cheaper classes of funds. Now many firms have suspended promulgating new retirement account policies and are very comfortable waiting for more specific regulatory guidance. There is less trepidation in the air since Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta is viewed as more pro-business. Many are hopeful that the SEC, under new leadership, will influence the shape of the new regulations.
As a result, more advisors are feeling free to change firms with fewer worries about what the final regulatory landscape will look like.