David MoonBlog

by David Moon

There are more conflicts of interest in the investment industry than most investors know, but a Department of Labor (DOL) “fiduciary requirement” regulation that went in effect on June 9 may provide some insight into whether your advisor has been recommending investments that benefit him rather than you. The new rule requires that recommendations made for IRAs or other retirement accounts be solely in the best interests of the client.

It is embarrassing for the investment industry that such a rule is needed, but it is.

Ameriprise Financial recently provided its brokers a list of 1,500 mutual funds they could no longer recommend or purchase for retirement accounts. These funds don’t meet a fiduciary standard of client care.

To its credit, Ameriprise appears to be prohibiting the use of these funds in all client accounts, not just retirement accounts, as required by the DOL regs. By contrast, Wells Fargo Advisors now prohibits its brokers from selling its most expensive classes of mutual fund shares to retirement accounts, but allows its advisors to continue using those high-cost funds in non-retirement accounts. It is difficult to conclude anything other than that Wells Fargo is only committed to placing its clients’ interests first in those circumstances where it is legally required.

It’s hard to imagine that a rule requiring advisers to work in their clients’ best interests would be controversial, but this debate has been hiding in plain sight for years. Then-president Obama was in favor of the rule, so Republicans and the US Chamber of Commerce were against it. The day before the rule took effect, the House of Representatives approved an act that would prohibit the DOL from implementing a fiduciary requirement until the Securities and Exchange Commission proposes a similar requirement. It was akin to voting to allowing people to steal because of an argument over jurisdiction.

Although almost every brokerage firm has changed its policies or the product lines it allows its advisors to use with retirement plan accounts, it doesn’t mean that your specific advisor has recommended investments that aren’t in your best interest. But there is a way to get a pretty good idea if your advisor has recommended investments for your retirement plan that aren’t clearly in your best interests. If there is an investment that he once recommended to you but no longer does, ask why. If there an investment reason for the shift, such as a change in your situation or some investment goal the advisor is trying to achieve, you’re probably fine. But if his firm’s policies no longer allow him to use a specific investment in your account, you better find out why. If the investment isn’t in your best interest now, was it ever?

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. This article originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.