With the Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule in purgatory via court ruling and President Trump’s call for a review of the rule, investors are looking ahead to the SEC’s newly proposed code of conduct rule. Even if the DOL rule eventually goes into effect, new SEC regulation may eventually supersede the DOL rule in governing the way that financial service companies service retirement assets.
So what’s the best way to speak to clients about these complex – and unresolved – regulatory issues? For many asset managers, these regulatory changes seem to provoke paralysis. While the firms may be extremely involved behind closed doors in shaping regulation, commenting, or court proceedings, quite a few financial brands have essentially been silent with investors. As marketers and compliance teams wrestle with the questions of if, when, and how to address ongoing developments, some may worry that they’ll be held liable for commenting on their firm’s not-yet-decided course of action. They may also worry that the topic is too complex – and dare we say dull – for the average investor to take interest in or fully understand.
Still, several leading financial brands have found a way to speak with clients about these ongoing issues. We took a look at publicly available content around the web for examples of how some of the big names in asset management have addressed these issues with a retail client audience.
Make your position known
One of the boldest strategies is to come out with a clear viewpoint on regulation.
- Vanguard. Chairman Bill McNabb authored a blog post during the April 2017 phase of rule commenting which basically says, we support the DOL rule. The post also outlines broad categories of how the firm commented during the review period, omitting the actual details but providing a link to its full comments for investors who want to go to the source.
Reassurance through analysis
Another communication strategy is to reassure clients by providing some analysis of regulation, whatever stage it’s at. A few leading asset management brands have chosen this track:
- Allianz Global Investors. In May 2016, retirement specialist Glenn A. Dial authored a listicle as part of a series called Dialed in to Retirement which simplifies the 923-page document down to five takeaways for investors.
- BNY Mellon. BNY has a few pieces of public content on the DOL rule in a series called Focus on Regulation Readiness, including a May 2016 video and transcript of a roundtable discussion among several directors at the firm, and a November 2017 update on the latest developments of the rule.
- PIMCO. Head of public policy Libby Cantrill wrote a blog post in December 2016 on the possible actions by the Trump administration regarding the DOL rule.
All action, no talk
Quite a few firms have made strategic changes or technology investments to comply with the DOL rule.
Yet, they’ve said little on public content channels. Here are a few cases of where decisive action may speak for itself:
- BlackRock. BlackRock cut fees in a number of iShares ETFs in order to comply with the DOL rule’s focus on reasonable compensation and compete with lower-cost offerings.
- Fidelity. The firm recently announced a move toward more uniform advisory fees, transitioning away from fees that vary by product.
- JP Morgan Asset Management. JP Morgan announced plans for several of its operating entities to move commission-based IRA accounts to either an advisory-fee platform or a self-directed platform, though it hasn’t commented on the changes through its public web content.
A surprising number of leading brands are radio-silent on these regulatory issues, though they may be very involved in the actual regulation process and making significant operational changes behind the scenes. They may also be limiting their discussion to private communications with clients, avoiding the risks of putting content into public forums.
So much of financial content is about reassuring clients that investment leaders are on top of the issues that affect client savings. Even in the face of an ambiguous regulatory future, some firms are taking decisive action and leading the market with proactive communications. Consider that there’s already evidence suggesting that first-movers (in terms of compliance changes) are gaining market share, as in the case of Fidelity’s gains with 401(k) plan sponsors. While the risks of putting out content may seem high, there’s a cost to doing nothing – and maybe a cost to the appearance of doing nothing. As the SEC proposal shapes up, consider which of these content strategies could position your brand as a leading voice in a changing environment.