Wells Fargo Advisors Confirms Shift in Commission Strategy

The firm is not sharing all the details of its compliance plan for the DOL fiduciary rule, but it has confirmed it will put some new limits on mutual fund share classes made available to retirement accounts. 

Wells Fargo Advisors is putting new limits on mutual fund share classes and types of securities advisers can sell or recommend in a client’s retirement account.

The development at the major U.S. brokerage firm was first reported by Investment News and has been confirmed by PLANADVISER: Mutual fund sales will be limited to newly minted “T shares” in retirement accounts. There will also be prohibitions related to “more esoteric” municipal bonds, including taxable municipal bonds, and corporate debt below moderate credit quality.

These changes are set to take effect starting in the first weeks of June, with the implementation of the Obama-era Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule and related exemptions.

“Wells Fargo Advisors is well-positioned for the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule and we are prepared for the June 9 implementation date,” a spokesperson says. “We recognize our clients need choices when making their investment decisions to help them achieve their long-term goals. We are assessing the DOL’s latest guidance and will continue to evolve our strategy to ensure our clients have the best outcomes under the rule.”

The move to T-shares for retirement accounts is expected to help advisers working with the brokerage firm meet the requirements of the strict new conflict of interest regulations. In general terms, the shares have a 2.5% commission and a 25 basis point trail. As the firm sees it, the uniformity of compensation across T shares “has been designed to remove conflicts and ensure the equitable treatment of mutual fund investors.”

Advisers will retain leeway to recommend U.S. Treasuries, U.S. government agency bonds, brokered certificates of deposit, and U.S. corporate debt that meets “moderate credit quality and liquidity requirements,” Wells Fargo confirms.

Wells Fargo suggests it may end up reforming these policies once again in the future, depending on how the Trump administration and Congress proceed. As a field assistance bulletin published by the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) describes, the DOL is still “actively engaging in a careful analysis of the issues raised” in relation to the fiduciary rule by industry groups and other skeptics.  “It is possible, based on the results of the examination, that additional changes will be proposed to the fiduciary duty rule and prohibited transaction exemptions,” DOL says.