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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bracing For the Fiduciary Reg: Mutual Fund Board Edition

Reported by Neil Anderson, Managing Editor

Fundsters are not immune to the wave of fiduciary regulation worry sweeping through financial services, and even mutual funds' directors may want to know about the re-proposed regulation when it arrives. For fund boards, according to some top legal eagles in the space, it's the effect on the mutual fund advisors and service providers that they should be watching.

Stephanie Napier
Senior Counsel
"The business impact of this is really interesting to try and imagine," Stephanie Napier, senior counsel at Vanguard, said this morning on a panel in a breakout session at the 2016 ICI Mutual Funds and Investment Management conference at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando.

Also on the panel were: David Abbey, deputy general counsel of retirement policy for the ICI; Brad Campbell, counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath; and Bob Doyle, vice president of government affairs at Prudential. The session was packed with attendees, to the point of being standing-room-only.

Philip Koehler
ERISA Fiduciary Administrators
Principal and Chief Executive Officer
Abbey suggested a fund board course of action that sounds similar to what boards are doing in light of the SEC's three-year-long "distribution in guise sweep"; keep an eye on those broker-dealers and platforms.

"Conversations that the fund companies are having with their distribution channels is probably something that the board would want to take an interest in," Abbey said.

Of course, fundsters and the rest of the public don't yet know what the DoL's revised fiduciary reg proposal looks like. It was submitted to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review in late January, and Campbell echoes broad industry speculation that the OMB could finish up and publish the proposed reg in the Federal Register as early as next week.

Campbell fielded one audience question about the possibility of fund firms changing or unifying their share classes to better suit the post-fiduciary reg world of advice. Campbell concurred that such moves are possible, though he added that they "will not be the only response." Creating or unifying share classes, Abbey added, would have "huge implications for a board there as well." 

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