The Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed what it terms a Best Interest Regulation which is to govern how broker/dealers interact with their customers. A distant parallel to the current discussion about the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule, this proposed regulation does not change the dichotomy in treatment of registered investment advisers versus brokers who are subject to the SEC. In other words, different rules will still apply to these two different groups.
Perhaps the biggest change is the institution of a “best interest” standard for brokers when interacting with retail customers/investors. This is a step up from the former suitability standard which, in many cases, amounted to no more than lip service to the customer’s interests and preserved the ability of brokers to place their interests on a par with (if not above) those of their customers. The proposal includes requirements for further disclosure of a broker’s financial interest and incentives in transactions as well as the establishment of procedures to ensure compliance.
Another aspect of the proposal is the restriction/limitation of the use of the title advisor or adviser by a broker. This change will address a source of real confusion among investors and help make clearer how the services and responsibilities of brokers and investment advisers differ.
Naturally, there are many different opinions on this SEC proposal but, at the very least, this proposal is a step in the direction of increased consideration for and protection of retail investors. Although not a panacea, and well short of an across the board fiduciary standard (which I fully support), the proposal is a positive move. It will be interesting to follow the comment period activities and see where this proposed regulation finally lands.