The new US Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule, to be in effect by April 10, 2017, is, depending on whom you ask a blessing, a curse, or one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for traditional wealth management firms.
Of course, the reality isn’t so dramatic, as most firms and analysts agree that it’s not nearly as onerous as the 2015 proposal was. However, Mike Foy, director of the Wealth Management Practice at J.D. Power, cautions that the DOL Fiduciary Standard is contributing to a shifting landscape in wealth management, and “is dramatically changing the value proposition traditional firms provide.”
It still amounts to drastic changes, albeit ones that are tied up in another long and complex regulatory document (1,023 pages, painstakingly put together over six years) that can be whittled down to a few simple points.
The Rundown on the DOL Fiduciary Rule
But before you dig into the document and peruse every nook and cranny, it’s important to remember that just because the new rules don’t come into effect until next year, there’s no excuse not to jump into action. You need to be engaged and already planning how your firm will adjust to the rule well before it takes effect.
If advisors want to continue business practices and compensation arrangements that may carry a conflict of interest, they are obligated to get their clients to sign a best interest contract, or BIC. They also have to disclose any fees upfront.
Morningstar’s Michael Wong’s assessment is that the “rule primarily affects approximately $3 trillion of advised IRA assets; that there's approximately $19 billion of revenue related to these assets; operating margins on IRA assets could fall several percentage points; upwards of $1 trillion may move into passive investments; and in excess of $250 billion of full-service wealth management client assets will shift into different investment services offerings.”
Yet the DOL hasn’t handed down compliance commandments via stone tablets from a mountaintop. The advisor is left to determine what model meets the client’s best interest; so the new ruling encourages advisers to tailor specific advice for each account. But there’s still a lot of debate about how to make that necessary compliance easier and more convenient.
Make Compliance Easier: Start with Onboarding
Morningstar reports that “Financial technology companies will play a “key role” in meeting the requirements of the fiduciary rule... advice and investment management made scalable by technology will be in higher demand, and more firms will create partnerships or launch in-house digital advice providers as a result of the rule.”
For many, this means an increase in robo-advisers. But for more traditional firms, it’s an opportunity to adopt new software to help keep in line with both the new fiduciary rule and the constantly shifting compliance regulations
What does the new rule mean for client onboarding? Is it a simple matter of adding a new piece of paper – the BICE – to the stack that clients already have to sign? There are already decision trees with dozens of branches reaching out, and new ones will have to be grafted on in light of the fiduciary rule, further complicating KYC data.
The difficulty is further exacerbated if you’re still using paper-based onboarding, leaving administrators and advisors scrambling to get all the right forms in order, spending more time and money on clerical work and reducing client satisfaction. Adjusting the onboarding process for the new Fiduciary Rule is more than just adding a BICE, it’s about adding a new layer to the foundation of the customer lifecycle that paves the way for future success.
Advisors need to come up with specific financial plans for each client and make sure that their advice doesn’t carry a hint of a conflict of interest, which is going to require a lot more data and insight into client’s financial records and personal financial goals. Onboarding is the ideal phase to integrate this, rather than making it a separate step or another hoop for clients to jump through. Doing the work in the beginning, during the onboarding phase, is much more efficient than scrambling for client data later while advising them.
Channelling your focus into onboarding is not an easy process, especially if you haven’t gone digital yet. If you really want to stay ahead of the new DOL rule, you’ll need to find a technology partner to establish a digital architecture that will not only make the transition to the fiduciary rule smooth for your business, but also improve the client experience. A partner can get you on the path to automation, digitizing documents and automating data transfers, providing omnichannel integration and content access while establishing a seamless customer experience that leaves you on the right side of the DOL.
Streamlining that process can allow you to nip conflicts of interest in the bud, by building compliance into the client lifecycle at the onboarding stage. A platform that automates the onboarding process can allow you the flexibility to tailor each client’s data and stay within compliance regulations in the future as their needs change.
The New Fiduciary Rule Is Not A Burden, It’s An Opportunity
Tom Corra, the Chief Operating Officer for Fidelity Clearing and Custody Solutions, writes that “The best firms are going to utilize the coming of this rule both to comply and to potentially adapt their business to compete in what may be a much different environment moving forward...they’re going to find a combination of processes and technology that will ensure that compliance doesn’t add a tremendous amount of cost to the way they do business today.”
The DOL’s fiduciary rule may be seen as just adding more friction and headaches for your business, but it can also serve as an incentive to find more efficient ways – via new digital software and technology partnerships – to make compliance easier get a few steps ahead of your competition, starting with a more sophisticated, automated onboarding system that will help you weather the fiduciary rule’s storm.
Mike Gardner is the CEO of Agreement Express, an end-to-end client onboarding automation platform for wealth management.