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One Step Closer to a Uniform Fiduciary Standard

As we are all aware, implementation of the DOL Fiduciary Rule has again been delayed by another 18 months and its viability is looking weaker by the day.

Those of you who have been following my guidance on the DOL Rule and fiduciary movement know that I have predicted failure of the DOL Rule and its replacement by a comprehensive Fiduciary Rule that will appropriately be crafted by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC).  It appears that we have moved one step closer.

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6 Steps to Compliance with the DOL Fiduciary Rule or a Uniform Fiduciary Standard

This treatise is designed to provide all financial advisers with practical guidance to achieving compliance with a fiduciary standard of care regardless of their specialty within the financial services industry. It explores six essential elements required to meet a fiduciary standard of care including the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule (the DOL Rule). In addition, it can serve as “buyers guide” for the public consumer of financial services.       

Part 1 was originally written in early 2017 prior to the effective date of the DOL Rule which was initially April 10th. Since the publication of Part 1 in February, there have been significant developments in the rollout of the DOL Rule worth reviewing – here’s a quick recap to bring us up to present.

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I am a Financial Advisor - I am a Fiduciary

Even as the 4/10/17 effective date of the Department of Labor (DOL) Fiduciary Rule has come and gone without event, the debate rages on. The battle lines are formed within the House Financial Services Committee pretty much along party lines with the Democrats trying to save the Rule and the Republicans trying to abolish it.

As we all know, every crisis offers an opportunity. What we saw happen was predictable. A robust cottage industry of “consultants” emerged promising to deliver efficient solutions to thousands of affected insurance agents, broker dealers and financial advisors who have been pondering the fate of their business models and careers. And, many major insurance companies exploited the fear, crisis and sense of impending doom among seasoned advisors that has been ubiquitous since the beginning of 2016. They spent fortunes on marketing materials, communications and outreach campaigns to position themselves as strong, durable, resource rich institutions that would be a “shelter in the storm”. Unfortunately, many independent advisors succumbed to their fears and either left the business, sold their practices in a fire sale or abandoned their independent practices and joined the big guys.

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2016 LifeMark Securities Ethos Award

Rochester, New York—LifeMark Securities Corp. proudly announced that Linda J. Black, ChFC, GFS, RICP, is the recipient of the 2016 LifeMark Securities Ethos Award for "Promoting the Highest Ethical Standards in the Financial Services Industry." LifeMark’s award recognized Ms. Black for outstanding ethical service to her clients, and for her inspirational support of the firm’s strict principles of adherence to ethical practice throughout the organization.

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Selling Annuities Post DOL Rule - Threats to Brokerage General Agency and Independent Agents

The BGA faces challenges and inconvenient realities that have almost instantly materialized and has very little time to react to them. Some of these threats are serious and have the ability to not only hurt profitability but also cause the extinction of the business. Even though b/d’s are more equipped to deal with the challenges presented by the DOL, they are withdrawing registrations at an alarming rate. Some see this as a harbinger and point to other countries that have recently enacted similar legislation where the advisor attrition has been as high as 40%.







As always, crisis and opportunity go hand in hand. There is little disagreement in the industry, that there will be less players in the near future serving the qualified plans market. The independent channel will likely shrink while the larger institutions grow.

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Annuities - A Fair and Balanced View

Whether a fan or critic, expert or novice, it is generally agreed that annuities are complex financial instruments whose features, architecture and costs make them among the most difficult to understand. Promoters of annuities naturally portray them as simple and safe investments coupled with valuable guarantees that insure against loss of principal and longevity risk thus providing peace of mind and guaranteed income in retirement. On the other hand, opponents will present elaborate quantitative studies that attempt to demonstrate that annuities are extremely inefficient investments whose “guarantees” come at an unreasonable cost and sacrifice of liquidity.

In addition to the abundance of diametrically opposed expert opinions regarding their worth, confusion surrounding annuities is exacerbated by the fact that they have evolved dramatically in a relatively short period of time.

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An Open Challenge to all Financial Advisors

I am the CEO of LifeMark Securities Corp., an independent broker/dealer-RIA that has, since its inception in 1983, been committed to advancing and practicing Stewardship Standards in delivering financial services to our customers.

was astounded when I first read the April 14th article, Merrill Seeks To Be Leader On Fiduciary, in Investment News. Honestly, I came away thinking that Blaine Aiken, CEO of fi360, was a public relations consultant for Merrill.

A skeptical reader might see this is as a disingenuous marketing ploy by Merrill Lynch to give the appearance of embracing higher standards and fiduciary duties to its customers. After all, as Mr. Aiken said, “Merrill Lynch has turned the fiduciary standard into a competitive advantage.”

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Financial Services Industry - Regulatory Reform and Arguments of Standards

The system of regulation of Financial Services in the U.S. is seen as one of the most complex and comprehensive to be found in the world. Indeed the rules and regulations promulgated by FINRA and the SEC are emulated by many countries in Europe and Asia that have advanced financial markets. Ours is arguably the most advanced regulatory structure and the benchmark to which others would be compared.

In spite of this fact, in 2008 we experienced a series of cataclysmic events in the financial markets which precipitated one of deepest recessions in history. The near simultaneous burst of the real estate bubble, the failure of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, frozen credit markets and the meltdown in equities caused many an informed observer to believe that we were facing the possibility of a global collapse in financial markets.

Not surprisingly, these events fueled further political polarization between conservatives and liberals, a growing sense of distance between Wall Street and Main Street and feelings of fear, insecurity, and loss of confidence among investors. Furthermore, the fallout from 2008 raised fundamental questions of fairness in the financial marketplace, the integrity of corporate governance and, the effectiveness of regulation.

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