The Department of Labor's fiduciary rule has become a highly contentious issue in the US, with some suggesting that it will ultimately improve the quality of advice for consumers, and others suggesting it will lead to a damaging mass exodus from the industry. But the reality is that debates about lifting the standards for financial advice is not unique to the US; in fact, countries ranging from Australia to India, and from the Netherlands to the UK, have all enacted even more stringent reforms than the DoL's fiduciary rule, in most cases resulting in an outright and total ban on all investment commissions. Which provides us an interesting glimpse into how the financial services industry really is impacted as fiduciary standards are raised and commissions are reduced.
In this guest post, industry commentator Bob Veres shares his recent interview with Keith Richards, regarding the ban of commissions in the UK that was implemented in 2013 after their Retail Distribution Review (RDR), and how it has impacted demand for financial advice. Richards is the CEO of the U.K.'s equivalent of FINRA, and a former executive at UK equivalents of a major life insurance company, and before that a major broker-dealer.
Given his background, Richards was not surprisingly a major skeptic of the commission ban before it was enacted. But the "surprise", he reveals, is that the ban on commissions has actually created an environment which is better for both the industry and advisors. Richards believes that transparency and separation of fees from products has resulted in advisors better understanding the needs of their clients and articulating the value they provide, which has resulted in clients who are perfectly willing to pay for an advisor's expertise. In fact, demand for financial advisors is on the rise since commissions were banned, and financial intermediaries that feared a massive decline in revenue are actually seeing an increase, instead!
However, there are some reasons to believe that a ban on commissions in the US might not play out the same way it did in the UK. The key distinction is that nearly 20 years ago, the UK began to lift the educational standards for financial advisors, which meant that by the time commissions were banned and advisors had to get paid for advice, they were actually reasonably well trained to deliver that advice. By contrast, in the US, a wide swath of "financial advisors" have nothing more than basic Series 7 or Series 65 licenses, and consequently might not have enough training and education to get paid for their advice alone, if they were actually required to do so! Which means ultimately, lifting the standards for financial advice in the US needs to consider both the fiduciary duty of loyalty, and educational competency standards as well!
Nonetheless, for those advisors - or executives at financial services companies - who fear that a fiduciary standard and limitations on commissions would be destructive to the financial advisor business model, hopefully this perspective on how an even more stringent fiduciary standard and commission ban in the UK actually increased demand for financial advice, and the success of financial services companies, will be helpful food for thought!