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The DOL Rule and Why Brokers and Insurance Agents Should be Concerned

September 7th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

Are you currently a Registered Representative or an Insurance agent? If so, you will want to keep reading!

As you may know, the Department of Labor will have new regulations in effect on April 10, 2017, which will change how Brokers and Insurance agents conduct business with retirement investors.

For starters, when dealing with retirement investors, the broker or insurance agent cannot receive variable compensation. This means that someone receiving commissions, asset based fees, 12b-1 fees, etc. must create a uniform method of compensation.

Additionally, any investment recommendations must be in the retirement investor’s best interest, meaning that the agent or broker must have a thorough understanding of the client’s overall financial picture and cannot just rely on FINRA’s suitability standards.

Finally, if you still want to receive variable forms of compensation, you must be able to comply with something called the Best Interest Contract Exemption, aka the “BICE.” And, in order to truly comply, you have to be certain that recommending a product that will pay you variable compensation is in the retirement investor’s best interest.

The major caveat with complying with the BICE is that even though the client is fully aware of how you are compensated, if he or she believes the product is not their best interest, he or she can file a lawsuit against you. In other words, you can still sell commission based products, but don’t expect the BICE to bail you out if you are sued!

So, who is considered to be a retirement investor? To make this simple, do you sell or make investment recommendations for the following accounts?

  • ERISA governed Retirement Plans (with less than $50 million)
  • Non-ERISA Retirement Plans (e.g., Keogh, Solo Plans)
  • IRAs
  • Health Savings Accounts, Archer MSAs, and Coverdell ESAs

If you fall into one of these categories, you will want to seek advice on where to go from here! If you reside in the Greater Denver Area, Castle Rock Investment Company and The Law Offices of Ed Frado, LLC are hosting an event to educate Brokers and Insurance Agents on the details of the new DOL regulation on September 20th at Maggiano’s in the Denver Tech Center. If you would like to register, click here

We hope to see you at the event!

© Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at info@castlerockinvesting.com or via phone at 303-719-7523


Fund Families sued by their own employees over their retirement plans??

August 24th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

Over the past two years, a number of investment firms have been sued by their employees over their 401(k) plans. That’s right! Investment firms have been sued over their own in-house retirement plans! Why? In most cases, these firms would only provide proprietary funds to their employees at a full or slightly reduced cost. In fact, here are just a few of the recent cases from the past two years:

1. Transamerica
2. Fidelity Investments
3. Ameriprise
4. New York Life
5. Great West (Empower)
6. MFS Investment Management
7. Waddell and Reed
8. Allianz Global Investors
9. MassMutual
10. Neuberger Berman
11. Putnam Investments
12. BB&T
13. Edward Jones
14. Morgan Stanley
15. American Century

Why do these investment firms offer their own funds to their employees without significantly lower fees? First, they do not want to convey to their employees that there are potentially superior investment opportunities outside of the company. For instance, Fidelity might not want to offer an outside fund that could be cheaper and possibly better performing than a comparable Fidelity fund. Additionally, since these plans tend to be very significant in size, reducing investment fees for their own employees could be problematic, since it could potentially increase fees for their retail investors to absorb the cost.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? Yes, there actually is! For the investment firms that are currently offering their proprietary funds to their employees without reduced expenses, these firms should consider offering outside funds to their employees. This could potentially result in lower expenses for the employees. Furthermore, this could remove the target off their backs from ERISA once the DOL regulation becomes effective in April of 2017. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done because it requires investment firms to expose their weak spots in their investment line ups, which could also potentially leak out to their retail investors. Also, a retirement plan was never meant to make the employer money, it is supposed to be a generous benefit for its employees.

With the new DOL regulation coming in April 2017, 2016 has proven that broker dealers and investment advisors are not the only target, but the fund families have also been dealing with quite the roller coaster themselves. And, as retirement investors, we should be glad that the investment business is starting to clean up its act for good and will in return make the industry more beneficial for everyone.

© Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at mack@castlerockinvesting.com or via phone at 303-719-7523


Rouge Broker Steals $1.3 Million From an 89-Year old!

August 3rd, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

On July 2016, FINRA discovered that Travis Wetzel, a former broker who was originally barred from the industry in 2013, had been making fraudulent annuity withdrawal requests for an 89-year old’s Variable Annuity with Prudential. Once Prudential got wind of this, it immediately investigated the situation and discovered that the withdrawals were being made from an account in the broker’s wife’s maiden name! Overall, there were a total of 114 withdrawals made to this account between July 2010 through September 2012. Unfortunately for Prudential, even though it responded promptly and reimbursed the 89-year old, it was fined $950,000 by FINRA for failing to spot this while the withdrawals were being made.

Even though this story seems to be very unfortunate for both the 89-year old and Prudential, things like this happen more frequently than most people would think. For instance, MetLife was fined $25 million dollars for similar reasons. And, on top of that, LPL has paid over $12 million in fines and restitution for failing to supervise fraud in variable annuities, non-traded REITS, and even certain ETFs.

Since variable annuities are complex products that are mostly sold to the elderly, FINRA places a very high level of scrutiny on possible fraudulent activity. And, it can be quite a task for brokers to spot these transactions since they process millions of transactions on a daily basis. So, being able to spot fraudulent activity the minute it happens can be nearly impossible. In fact, it can take up to a couple of years to find out what exactly happened!

Is there anything the client can do to avoid these mishaps? Fortunately, yes, there is! Individuals can hire a financial advisor, such as Castle Rock Investment Company, that operates as a fiduciary to help them make the right choices and not get sucked in by a dishonest broker. Another thing that a client can do is look up their broker or investment advisor through FINRA’s Broker-Check website to see if they have had previous client complaints. Although most financial professionals are honest people, it is important that individuals seeking financial advice do their homework to see if they are walking into a trap.

© 2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All rights reserved. Please share your insights with us at mack@castlerockinvesting.com or via phone at 303-719-7523


Brexit: What’s the Big Deal and What You Should Know About it?

June 27th, 2016

By Mack Bekeza

As you may or may not know, The United Kingdom (”UK”) has voted to leave the European Union (“EU”). For decades, the UK has argued left and right whether or not their relationship with the EU is worthwhile. Think of this as an old couple who have been constantly bickering at each other and all of a sudden one of them throws water at the other person telling them to take a hike but then asks them if they can still be friends. In other words, the UK will no longer be a part of the EU but still needs them as a crucial trading partner.

In the midst of this, global markets have experienced some wacky volatility. As of June 27th 12 P.M EST, the British Pound was trading nearly 16% less than it did on the previous Friday morning. The S&P 500 has also experienced a 4% decline as of June 27th 12 P.M EST compared to the previous Friday morning, not to mention that the next jobs report is expected to be dismal, causing further volatility. On the other hand, Gold has shot up and Treasury yields dropped as investors flee to safety, this is usually expected when currencies drop drastically like this.

So what does this all mean to us as investors? Is this the beginning of a global recession? The answer is that we cannot make these assumptions just yet. However, it is crucial to remind ourselves that we should invest for the long term and keep in mind our retirement goals. It is also important to keep in mind that this will be a great opportunity for those who Dollar-Cost Average to take advantage of the lower prices as we should expect a rebound to happen eventually. And always remember the famous quote from the British Government during WW2, “Keep Calm and Carry on!”

© 2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All Rights Reserved. Please share your insights and comments with us at mack@castlerockinvesting.com or call us at 303-719-7523.


Water Cooler Wisdom: Fourth Quarter 2015

January 11th, 2016

“What, if anything, can the rest of the world do to mitigate the volatile China impact?” – Anonymous client

Great question…and unfortunately, I don’t know the answer. Free trade is a basic American principle than underpins our capitalist system (my editor removed “mostly capitalist”). Of course, we all know that free trade isn’t truly “free” and America still operates from an unfair position with China. This is not new in 2015 but what’s changed over time is how quickly information is disseminated to “investors,” (human or not) and the speed at which our intermediaries can transfer funds.

Watching China move from a manufacturing to a service economy is like watching an awkward teen move into adulthood. You can’t hasten the pace, or make them mature overnight, since some things just take time. China implemented market circuit breakers on the first day of trading in 2016 that were tested that same day. Trading was suspended for 15 minutes when the market (CSI300 Index) dropped 5% and halted the rest of the day after the market dropped 7%. The circuit breaker was deactivated later that week after halting trading twice and exacerbating the market sell-offs it was designed to limit.

Back at home, the U.S. economic numbers generally look sound but there’s nothing to get excited about. We are missing that one glaring opportunity to spur inflation and, in turn, wage growth. Long-term GDP growth of 1.5% is a yawner, labor force participation is down to 62.5%, and we know the graduating class of 2015 is the most indebted class ever.  In other words, they’ve already consumed a larger part of their future income than previous graduates. Talk about a drag…on the economy.

It is ironic but a drop in the value of the U.S. dollar, an increase in interest rates, and a drop in the supply of oil actually sounds good right now (see “Oil Markets”). It makes me long for the days of 13% interest rates and long lines at the gas pump when you could only fill up on odd or even days (depending on the last number on your license plate).

But then again…stagflation is depressing. I’d take today’s economy over the 1970’s any day. Economists disagree on whether there will be three or four Federal Reserve rate hikes in 2016 (see “The Fed and Interest Rates”) and in spite of a 0% return in money markets, we have almost $12 Trillion in cash (notice the capital “T,” see “Cash Accounts”).

Conclusion
As usual, we recommend a balanced portfolio with a risk profile suitable for each investor’s tolerance and goals. 2015 seemed to play out the new normal of volatility, but we should continue to invest wisely, steadily and with discipline. Volatility is here to stay.


White House Memo: A Moment of Opportunity for Fiduciaries to Retirement Plans

February 5th, 2015
Famous showdown between "Fast Eddie" Felson and “Minnesota Fats” in the iconic American film, The Hustler

Showdown between “Fast Eddie” Felson and “Minnesota Fats” in the iconic American film, The Hustler

If you think we’re letting go of the “fumbling children” reference made by FSI chairman Adam Antoniades, you have another thing coming. He reminds me of the proud “Minnesota Fats” character in the classic film The Hustler— he doesn’t want to recognize the truth and talent of the situation he’s faced with by “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman), because it means that his reign as best player has ended.

Mr Antoniades goes so far to call the leaked White House Memo from January 13 simplistic, though it refers to more PhD studies than his fumbling response could even spell, so he’ll have to try and respond again.

Read the rest of this entry »


Declaration of Independence

February 3rd, 2015

“Can you be more specific?”

Embarrassing, but true: the retirement industry is asking that of the US government.

The definition of a Fiduciary needs to be more specific because of cases where Plan Sponsors are legally charged unreasonable fees for a long time, but the Department of Labor’s interpretation is undesirable to Wall Street. Of course, Wall Street is on the receiving end of these unreasonable fees.

As an investment advisory firm who identifies in writing as a fiduciary to our clients, we uphold the interests of our client above those of any other interest, because we have no other interested parties. The unfortunate reason that other investment advisors will not agree to sign a fiduciary agreement with a client is because they are “promised” to a large company, who profits from a retirement plan through hidden fees.

While the Plan Sponsor is unaware of this other agreement, and often the Investment Advisor is not entirely upfront about this agreement with the Plan Sponsor’s representatives, it comes out in the end through hidden fees and a whole mess of ugly policies.

The sort of game run here should be illegal. Not because the Plan Sponsors are not careful, instead they often are smart and diligent, but because they are simply not protected by the law. Up to this point, the law is unclear. The Independent Advisor they supposedly hire is not, after all, independent according to a stricter definition now proposed by the Department of Labor, led by Phyllis Borzi.

Insist upon a clear definition of an independent advisor so that you know your advice comes for the interest of your retirement plan, and not for the interest of someone else’s quasi-legal activity. Sign the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/414/401/760/tell-washington-to-stand-up-to-wall-street/

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


Not that Complicated

February 2nd, 2015
FSI Chairman Adam Antoniades, from Think Advisor

FSI Chairman Adam Antoniades, from ThinkAdvisor

In any fight, there are two sides waving their arms around.

The Financial Services Institute, or FSI, states in response to a recent White House memo that changing the way the delicate fiduciary system is run will ruin everything. The Financial Services Institute, or FSI, is in opposition to redefining the Fiduciary Standard as it is proposed because of various reasons, some more partisan than others. In general, the FSI puts investor advisors first, and the DOL puts workers and clients first.

How could increased or maintained responsibility of advisors lead to greater abuse of power? Among the first things said by the FSI is the atypical “hrrumph, well people outside the industry just don’t understand the complexities of how we deal with these things.” When in reality, it’s not that complicated: you protect the interest of your clients retirement if you are forced to put their interests first under the law, so why not stop dancing around this and just execute the priority anyway?

Demand protection for your retirement you deserve. Sign the petition to here at SaveOurRetirement.org: http://saveourretirement.com/take-action.html

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


Risk Management: Employee Retirement Plans

January 23rd, 2015

Risk ManagementCastle Rock jumps through hoops to be among the best investment advisors. Not every investment advisor goes through the same rigorous training because these hoops are not legally required. We do not think that making best practices a legal requirement will diminish our status as one of the best firms around, but we do think that selecting an investment advisor should be less risky for Plan Sponsors.

You are supposed to be careful of sales pitches that avoid using the term “fiduciary” but stress “education” instead, because those are not interchangeable services. The difference between these services would be like exchanging accounting for bookkeeping services, or medicine with surgery, or heads with tails in a coin toss. Providing education does not negate a need for a fiduciary; rather, a fiduciary investment advisor should be around for cases where education does not meet the plan’s needs, and an expert opinion is necessary.

How confident are we that Castle Rock is the place to turn? We are the best retirement investment advisor around. You can check our About Us section to be sure, or better yet Contact Us.

Our qualifications exceed all of these expectations, but you may want to check to see if your own advisor is able to eliminate some of the risks to you as a plan sponsor[1]:

  1. At least 50% of assets under management in qualified retirement plans (ours are 99%);
  2. Has an Accredited Investment Fiduciary™ or similar designation;
  3. SEC Registered Investment Advisor (RIA);
  4. Make sure your advisor has been working in the industry for at least a decade;
  5. Get a fee agreement that clearly states how the fees will be charged; and
  6. Make sure that fiduciary status is in writing.

To show your support for conflict-free advice in all retirement plans, please sign the petition here at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/414/401/760/tell-washington-to-stand-up-to-wall-street/

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


What’s Going On?

January 22nd, 2015
Source: Bloomberg

Source: Bloomberg

A fiduciary duty, the obligation to uphold the clients’ interest above all else, is Phyllis Borzi’s long sought and tunneled for goal that we at Castle Rock uphold and agree whole-heartedly with. Together, our standards are the highest in the retirement industry. She says that, like in the movie Groundhog Day, bad policies keep being relived over and over. We want to stop the origin of the problem: the poor incentive structure.

Her aim is to make incentives to advisors as straightforward as possible in retirement plans so that the resulting fees will not surprise retirees and leave them with less than they planned.

When investment advisors do not sign up to be fiduciaries to the plans they advise, it leads to corruption and changes the fee structures of these plans so that the retirees no longer have the same security after 65 (typical retirement age). Liability to the Plan Sponsor also changes, and the integrity of the investment advisor themselves is challenged as well.

One example of how the Plan Sponsors are hung out to dry is the John Hancock case, where unreasonable fees were not seen as criminal because of this legal loophole.

Sign your support for reform here at SaveOurRetirement.com!

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com