A coalition of leading business groups announced a lawsuit Thursday aiming to block new Labor Department regulations designed to protect retirement savers from conflicts of interest in the market for financial advice. The group argued the rule would limit the choices available to investors and impinge on the services offered by financial advisers and their firms, reviving a bitter dispute that has followed the rule since it was first proposed in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.
“Instead of helping savers plan for retirement, the new rule will unfortunately restrict their access to affordable retirement advice and limit their options for saving,” the group wrote in a joint statement. “The rule will shackle Main Street financial advisers with extensive new requirements and constant liability, forcing them to limit the options and guidance they provide to retirement savers.”
The rule, a top priority of the outgoing Obama administration, requires insurance brokers, retirement advisers and other financial professionals to avoid monetary conflicts of interest when offering financial advice to holders of 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts, or IRAs.
Those conflicts of interest include variable commissions on the sale of products like annuities and mutual funds as well as fees paid to financial advisory firms by companies whose products they sell. A study last year by the Council of Economic Advisors indicated such incentives cost savers at least $17 billion a year in additional fees other costs.
Finalized in April and taking effect in 2017, the new guidance would bar some forms of commissions, require enhanced disclosures for brokers and expand the definition of fiduciary to a whole new set of advisers, requiring them to act in the best interests of their clients — a standard previously not required of all retirement professionals.
For the Chamber of Commerce, the Financial Services Institute, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and other top financial industry lobby groups, the rule represents an overreach by the Labor Department, which was granted authority over employees’ retirement plans in 1974.
“Our organizations are now asking a court to review whether the Department of Labor overstepped its boundaries, creating a rule that will leave Americans with fewer retirement choices, higher costs and reduced access to professional financial advice,” the statement read. A study by investment research group Morningstar found the industry could lose some $19 billion a year in fees and other revenue.
The groups filed the lawsuit against Labor Department Secretary Thomas Perez in federal court in Dallas.
Consumer groups and advocacy organizations allied with politicians including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have rejected the notion that the new rules will severely affect savers, arguing a reduction in conflicts of interest in the financial advice industry will prove a net benefit.