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March 2, 2015

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Seeing Through The Fog on Retirement-fund Advisers

“Let’s see. Do I want an investment adviser or a financial adviser to help plan for retirement? A variable annuity, fixed annuity, or no annuity at all? How about stashing savings in an S&P 500 index fund – they’re all the same, right?

“I don’t have vertigo, but whenever I consider my options for retirement saving, my head spins. Then I heard about President Obama’s AARP speech last week and wondered if the diagnosis – and a simple, straightforward treatment – had been sitting around untried all along.

“That’s how it looks to Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America. For years, Roper has pushed a theme that the Obama administration now embraces, even if it shies away from using a legal name for it – fiduciary duty – as inscrutable to most people as a generic drug’s.

“I caught up with Roper last week to ask why she and Obama are focused on the same answer for what ails this key corner of our financial system: requiring all who offer retirement advice to act in the best interests of their clients, even if it means less profit for the advisers.

“The problem they’re trying to address is vast, with Social Security promising a limited safety net and the demise of most fixed-benefit pensions. We’re increasingly reliant on private savings. Yet some people’s prudence gets undermined by a Wild West system full of lax and confusing rules and little enforcement.

“For many of us, it’s not only hard to distinguish among the financial products available, it’s even hard to tell which advisers to trust and which to treat warily.

“Obama framed the problem simply: “Right now,” he said, “there are no uniform rules of the road that require retirement advisers to act in the best interests of their clients.” Though the proposed rules from the Labor Department aren’t yet public, Roper says it’s clear that Obama wants to make that key requirement – a fiduciary duty – finally apply across the board.”

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Read the full “The Philadelphia Inquirer” article by Jeff Gelles here.

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