(Dow Jones) Changes await financial advisors now that the regulatory overhaul bill is final, some imminent and some that may be years away.
The duty of implementing many key provisions falls largely to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been given the power to conduct studies and develop rules. "A lot will have to get filled out in the regulatory process," says Kurt Schacht, a managing director at the CFA Institute, a nonprofit association of investment professionals.
Major elements of the bill that affect advisers:
INVESTMENT ADVICE: Authorizes the SEC, after a six-month study, to develop rules to create a higher ethical standard for brokers who give investment advice to retail customers. The SEC may, but isn't required to, establish rules holding broker dealers to a fiduciary level of duty similar to that of registered investment advisers. Selling in-house or "proprietary" products or receiving commissions won't necessarily violate a new standard. Brokers may want to review their practices while the SEC studies the issue. Developing new SEC rules, however, could take years.
PRIVATE PLACEMENTS: Extends, for at least four more years, a $1 million minimum net-worth requirement for investors to be eligible to purchase private placements. The figure, however, now excludes the value of an investor's primary home, which has counted toward reaching that threshold for nearly two decades. Directs the SEC to review the standard after the four-year window, at minimum of once every four years, and develop new rules if an adjustment is needed. Advisors who sell private placements, also called Reg-D offerings, should be careful to exclude primary residences from net worth when dealing with individual and joint investors.
ARBITRATION: Authorizes the SEC to modify rules on the use of mandatory securities arbitration agreements, but doesn't require any changes. The agency would have to determine that actions it decides to take--or not take--serves the public interest and those of investors. If the SEC limits use of the agreements, more disputes with investors or employers could be headed to civil courts, which could mean additional legal costs.
HEDGE FUNDS: Would require hedge funds and private-equity funds to register with the SEC as investment advisors. Advisors must keep records that will be subject to SEC inspection, including information about trading, valuation, off-balance-sheet leverage and exposure to counter-party credit risk. Most hedge fund advisors who manage the largest and most reputable funds are already SEC-registered. Those who haven't yet done it would have to increase their compliance obligations. The SEC will be authorized to develop rules to exempt advisors to family offices from registration requirements.
STATE REGULATION OF INVESTMENT ADVISORS: Registered investment advisors who manage between $25 million and $100 million would be subject to state regulation instead of current SEC oversight. Advisors who are registered in 15 or more states, however, would remain under the SEC's watch. Many advisors prefer federal oversight because they're likely to face more scrutiny and examinations from state regulators.
PENSIONS: Would provide temporary funding relief to companies by enabling them to take longer to meet the funding requirements of the Pension Protection Act. More pension plans are expected to at least temporarily slip below the funding levels that allow lump sum distributions. As a result, less money would wind up--at least temporarily--under an advisor's management.
DISCLOSURE OF ADVISOR INFORMATION: Requires the SEC to study ways to improve investor access to information about advisors' professional backgrounds, including disciplinary histories and arbitration proceedings. The results could ultimately lead to a more centralized method of disclosing registration information for investment advisors and brokers, which is presently available on separate databases available through the SEC, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and state regulators.