Raymond James Financial Services President Scott Curtis on Tuesday gave grudging support for the Department of Labor’s revamped fiduciary proposal. Even though his support was qualified and came with caveats, it placed Raymond James at odds with much of the brokerage industry.
“It appears to be a significant improvement from the [original] 2010 proposal,” he said. Curtis touched on the DOL’s controversial effort, as well as other industry developments, in an address to 1,900 advisors at the independent contractor firm’s annual meeting in Las Vegas.
His remarks were closed to the press, but Curtis spoke afterward with reporters.
“We’re now really digging through the [DOL] proposal,” he told the press. “Is it workable? Can we really oversee” advisors as fiduciaries under the new plan? And “we’re trying to understand what a ‘best-interest’ standard is” as defined in the DOL’s modified plan, which was issued last week.
The brokerage industry, including Raymond James, was worried that the DOL’s original proposal would have outlawed the use of commissioned products and trail fees within retirement plans and IRAs.
Those compensation arrangements would be permitted under exemptions from the DOL’s prohibited-transaction rules.
Curtis said Raymond James will work with the Financial Services Institute and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in responding to the DOL, and may file its own comment letter as well. Raymond James is the nation's second largest independent brokerage after LPL Financial, which has also endorsed a fiduciary standard while it continues to study the specifics of the DOL proposal.
Both LPL and Raymond James are public companies. Most other independent brokerages are privately held.
Were Raymond James and LPL to take a different stance than most IB-Ds, it wouldn't be the first time. Many independent firms derive 20% or more of their revenue from variable annuities, products that have been criticized for their hefty commissions.
Years ago, both firms took steps to negotiate lower commissions from insurers on VAs in an effort to reduce potential conflicts of interest. Although the move caused some reps who compliance types termed "commission hounds" to leave the two firms, executives believe the policy improved the quality of their advisor networks.
It's a fact of life that advisors are also experiencing more scrutiny from regulators over anti-money laundering rules, Curtis said.
Advisors need to take care to know the source of client funds, he said, not because of new regulations but from increased regulatory expectations.
“The scrutiny has increased significantly in the last few years,” Curtis said.
Client expectations have also changed, driven by technology, he added. The robo-advisor movement is “really about convenience, low cost and transparency,” Curtis said.