The Biden administration unveiled new regulations on Tuesday aimed at addressing loopholes in retirement plan providers’ practices that allegedly prioritize their profits over their customers’ interests. The proposed rules, issued by the Labor Department, would require retirement plan providers to sell commodities and insurance products like annuities only when it is in the customer’s best interest. The regulations also aim to establish higher standards for financial advice provided during asset rollovers from employer plans to accounts like Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Lael Brainard, director of the White House National Economic Council, emphasized the need for financial advisors to prioritize savers’ best interests, condemning practices that lead to hidden costs and lower returns as “junk fees.”
The Investment Company Institute, representing fund managers, expressed skepticism about the necessity for further regulatory changes, citing existing robust investor protections. However, the proposed rule intends to compel brokerage firms to prioritize investors’ needs over products that generate higher payouts for them. While Securities and Exchange Commission rules mandate that advice regarding securities align with savers’ best interests, this requirement does not cover commodities or insurance products like fixed index annuities, commonly recommended to retirement savers. The new rule aims to ensure that retirement advisers provide advice in the savers’ best interest, regardless of the type of product recommended or where the advice is given, closing the existing loophole related to asset rollovers. In 2022, Americans rolled over approximately $779 billion from defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, into IRAs. The proposed regulation aims to guarantee that this advice is in the savers’ best interest, advocating for transparency and consumer protection.
Micah Hauptman, Director of Investor Protection at the Consumer Federation of America, expressed support for the administration’s proposal, emphasizing that regardless of the financial professional or product recommended, savers deserve advice that serves their best interests.