I was recently contacted by Christopher Carosa of FiduicaryNews.com who was looking for insights on the recently released Department of Labor (DOL) Conflict of Interest Regulations.  I found it particularly interesting that his questions regarding the rule weren’t so much mechanical in nature, meaning how it will work, but rather whether or not the rule will have the desired impact.  More specifically, he wanted to know whether it would actually prevent conflicts of interest or allow conflicts of interest to  persist.  To see the full  dialogue as well as thoughts from other industry professionals, click here:  http://www.fiduciarynews.com/2016/05/dol-fiduciary-rules-conflict-of-interest-split-personality/

Outside of the article, Chris was also interested in how retirement savers can be more aware of potential conflicts of interest.  I identified three questions they could ask their current or potential service provider to hopefully help ensure that conflicts of interest are being properly disclosed or mitigated entirely.

  1. Do you (advisor or service provider) charge fees in a level manner neutral of any investment advice or recommendations you might make?
  2. Do you have any formal or informal arrangements with any investment product or product manufacturer that would create a bias in the advice you give me?
  3. Will you provide a simple summary that clearly defines all fees, services and investment recommendations in a format that is easily comprehendible?

A recommended best practice would be to have the service provider respond to these questions in writing so that it’s fully documented and the service provider can be held accountable.   Unified Trust has always  operated as a fiduciary and taken a no conflict-of-interest approach.  Our  strong fiduciary governance process focuses on improving the results and outcomes for our participant clients.  However, the reality is that we are very different in the industry, and there are service providers in the industry who will continue to do business in a conflicted manner.  They will need to be prepared to be up front about any potentially inappropriate conflicts-of-interest that they might have.

It may be wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it be great if the industry took a different approach to the one taken when the fee disclosure rules came out?  Instead of being opaque and doing the minimum to comply, this time make clarity a priority, be direct with clients and do more than the minimum.