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Investor Defender Slams SEC Best Interest Enforcement

October 18, 2017

Leaving enforcement of the best interest standard up to Finra and the SEC as they currently handle it fails to adequately protect investors, Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America and a vocal proponent of the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, writes on The Hill.

The SEC and Finra’s interpretation of the best interest standard plays into the hands of those in the industry who would rather merely “disclose the many reasons they are unlikely to act in customers’ best interests and to avoid the most egregiously fraudulent misconduct,” according to Roper, who is a member of the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee and Finra’s Investor Issues Group. It’s therefore understandable that certain elements of the brokerage industry would prefer the SEC to be the arbiter of the best-interest standard rather than the DOL, she writes.

“Only time will tell whether [SEC chairman Jay Clayton] will live up to his promise to make the SEC work for ‘Mr. and Mrs. 401(k)’ or deliver the meaningless, watered-down standard industry has long sought and now hopes to achieve,” Roper writes on The Hill.

The DOL’s fiduciary rule, which purports to require retirement account advisors to put clients’ interests ahead of their own, went into partial effect in June. But its final implementation date has been pushed back 18 months following a directive from President Donald Trump to review the rule. The SEC began seeking comment on a best interest standard in June.

Barbara Roper

Last month Roper’s colleague Micah Hauptman, financial services counsel for the group, told FA-IQ he’s “skeptical” of any “meaningful action” from the SEC on a uniform fiduciary standard. Other groups, such as the Investment Adviser Association, have urged the SEC to adopt a tougher standard on brokers instead of a disclosure-only solution, one of the options the SEC has requested comment on.

The fate of the DOL’s rule, meanwhile, remains unknown. The agency faces several court challenges to the rule, and a House panel last week approved a bill to repeal the DOL’s rule and put enforcement of brokers into the hands of the SEC and Finra.

By Alex Padalka
  • To read the Hill article cited in this story, click here.