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New Rules Approved to Enhance Protections for Retail Investors Dealing With Financial Professionals

(HedgeCo.Net) The Securities and Exchange Commission has voted to adopt a package of rulemakings and interpretations designed to enhance the quality and transparency of retail investors’ relationships with investment advisers and broker-dealers, bringing the legal requirements and mandated disclosures in line with reasonable investor expectations, while preserving access (in terms of choice and cost) to a variety of investment services and products. Specifically, these actions include new Regulation Best Interest, the new Form CRS Relationship Summary, and two separate interpretations under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.

Individually and collectively, these actions are designed to enhance and clarify the standards of conduct applicable to broker-dealers and investment advisers, help retail investors better understand and compare the services offered and make an informed choice of the relationship best suited to their needs and circumstances, and foster greater consistency in the level of protections provided by each regime, particularly at the point in time that a recommendation is made.

“The rules and interpretations we are adopting today address issues that the Commission has been actively considering for nearly two decades,” said SEC Chairman Jay Clayton. “Our staff, working collaboratively across all of our Divisions and many of our Offices, has leveraged its decades of experience and expertise in considering these issues. I believe that the exceptional work of the SEC staff, including their careful evaluation of the feedback we received, will benefit retail investors and our markets for years to come. This rulemaking package will bring the legal requirements and mandated disclosures for broker-dealers and investment advisers in line with reasonable investor expectations, while simultaneously preserving retail investors’ access to a range of products and services at a reasonable cost.”

Under Regulation Best Interest, broker-dealers will be required to act in the best interest of a retail customer when making a recommendation of any securities transaction or investment strategy involving securities to a retail customer. Regulation Best Interest will enhance the broker-dealer standard of conduct beyond existing suitability obligations and make it clear that a broker-dealer may not put its financial interests ahead of the interests of a retail customer when making recommendations.

The Form CRS Relationship Summary will require registered investment advisers and broker-dealers to provide retail investors with simple, easy-to-understand information about the nature of their relationship with their financial professional. While facilitating layered disclosure, the format of the relationship summary allows for comparability among the two different types of firms in a way that is distinct from other required disclosures. Form CRS will also include a link to a dedicated page on the Commission’s investor education website, Investor.gov, which offers educational information about broker-dealers and investment advisers, and other materials.

The Commission also issued an interpretation to reaffirm and, in some cases, clarify the Commission’s views of the fiduciary duty that investment advisers owe to their clients under the Advisers Act. The interpretation reflects how the Commission and its staff have applied and enforced the law in this area, and inspected for compliance, for decades. By highlighting principles relevant to the fiduciary duty, investment advisers and their clients will have greater clarity about advisers’ legal obligations.

Finally, the Commission issued an interpretation of the “solely incidental” prong of the broker-dealer exclusion under the Advisers Act, which is intended to more clearly delineate when a broker-dealer’s performance of advisory activities causes it to become an investment adviser within the meaning of the Advisers Act. This interpretation confirms and clarifies the Commission’s position, and illustrates the application in practice in connection with exercising investment discretion over customer accounts and account monitoring.

Regulation Best Interest and Form CRS will become effective 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register, and will include a transition period until June 30, 2020 to give firms sufficient time to come into compliance. Our interpretations under the Advisers Act will become effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

The Commission recognizes that these new rules will require various market participants to make changes to their operations, including to mandatory disclosures, marketing materials and compliance systems. In order to assist firms with planning for compliance with these new rules, the Commission is establishing an inter-Divisional Standards of Conduct Implementation Committee. We encourage firms to actively engage with this committee as questions arise in planning for implementation. You may send your questions by email to: IABDQuestions@sec.gov.

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