The public perception of the DOL fiduciary rule

March 20, 2017 by Matt Marcum

Two financial advisors discuss the DOL fiduciary rule

About the author:

Matt Marcum

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Matt is a 2009 graduate of the University of Michigan and has worked in multiple roles at Advicent. He loves talking about financial planning and the value it brings both to advisors and to their clients. When not discussing FinTech trends with advisors, he enjoys spending his time outdoors with his wife and their dog.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have likely noticed that President Trump has issued an order to delay the implementation of the Department of Labor (DOL) Conflict of Interest Rule, which was scheduled to go into effect on April 10. In fact, you can read all about my own opinion about what the delay means for advisors and for their clients here.

However, when discussing the potential impact of the delay with my wife, an elementary teacher who is less exposed to the financial industry on a day-to-day basis, she pointed out that the term “fiduciary” may not be seeping into the public sphere as much as I thought. As much as I enjoy ranting about it to her, most of her colleagues had very little exposure to the term “fiduciary” and were unaware of the DOL rule in the first place. Though some people may not be aware of what a "fiduciary" is or how it affects them, they still expect advisors to act in their best interest. Working at Advicent, the term “fiduciary” has been prevalent in our company for a long time now, and it is possible that I overestimated how much the news of the delay would affect the public. 

Who is aware of the DOL fiduciary rule?

Before we move forward, I should provide a little background to why I am discussing this. The conversation with my wife started while we were listening to NPR. They were discussing a piece about what the delay of the DOL rule could mean and why the term “fiduciary” is important. My wife had made a great point that perhaps the portion of the population that listens to NPR is not reflective of the entire American population. This got me wondering: who is the average NPR listener and what does financial planning mean to them?

Fortunately, NPR actually has data on who their listenership is. There are some jaw-dropping statistics in that profile, but the section that stands out the most to me is “The Affluent Business Leader” audience profile. According to NPR, their listeners are:

  • 133 percent more likely to be top management and 148 percent more likely to be C-suite executives
  • 74 percent more likely to earn $100,000+ in household income
  • 456 percent more likely to have a doctorate degree

So what is my point? It is important to understand where the argument about the word “fiduciary” is happening. Even if the term “fiduciary” never seeps into mainstream language, it is certainly being discussed in forums that are most likely to catch the ears or eyes of the best prospects for financial advisors.

NPR claims that they are able to reach “the nation’s best and brightest.” I think it is safe to assume that the “best and brightest” includes some of the highest income earners across the country. These are the people that are coming to expect a higher level of service from their financial professionals. These are also the people that are going to expect a fiduciary standard from their advisors, regardless of how long the DOL ruling is delayed.

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