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Labor Department gets earful on fiduciary rule from industry opponents

The U.S. Department of Labor is holding meetings with industry players over the Conflict of Interest Rule ahead of what could be a new rulemaking process.

Officials including Acting Solicitor of Labor Nicholas Geale hosted a closed-door meeting May 30 on the so-called fiduciary rule after a broad range of financial services industry stakeholders requested time to share their views, according to sources. The Department of Labor confirmed the Tuesday meeting but did not comment further.

Trade groups at the May 30 meeting included, among others, representatives from the Insured Retirement Institute, the American Bankers Association and the American Council of Life Insurers. All the groups in attendance at this meeting had been vocal in their opposition to not only the June 9 implementation but the rule itself, a source familiar with the meeting noted.

The fiduciary rule mandates that advisers who sell investment and certain retirement insurance products such as variable annuities be able to show that they acted in their clients' best interest. A significant portion of the rule, including provisions requiring impartial conduct by brokers, will go into effect June 9 after Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said he found "no principled legal basis" to delay the implementation any further. His decision surprised and disappointed many in the insurance industry who had expected a further delay from the administration.

Full implementation of the rule, including the prohibited transaction exemption, is slated for Jan. 1, 2018. The Labor Department said it will not "pursue claims against fiduciaries who are working diligently and in good faith to comply" with the rule during the phased-in implementation period.

The ACLI said through a spokesman that it "appreciated the opportunity" to meet with administration officials and reinforce its concerns over the regulation and its "harmful impact on retirement savers." A spokesperson for the Insured Retirement Institute said the meeting was at the invitation of the Labor Department and off the record, but provided no further comment.

Groups that favor the fiduciary rule are expected to also voice their opinions with Labor Department staff in a separate meeting.

The Labor Department stated in a May memo that it is analyzing issues raised in a presidential directive and said it is possible that additional changes to the rule will be proposed. The guidance memo and a field assistance bulletin issued May 22 stated that the department plans to issue a request for information "in the near future."