On Monday, January 8, 2018 Vermont joined Iowa and Tennessee and issued detailed guidance on providing advice for securities and insurance products. Insurance Bulletin 198 (and Securities Bulletin S-2018-01) is a joint bulletin that the Department of Financial Regulation felt was necessary in order to provide financial professionals additional guidance on what activities are and are not permissible when it comes to providing advice on securities and insurance products.
The Department had issued more general guidance back in 2011, however, they stated two specific reasons for providing more detailed information now.
First, the Department said, there has been “an increase in investigations and enforcement actions relating to unregistered investment advice.”
Second, the “continuing evolution of state and federal suitability laws that now require an extensive financial analysis of a consumer’s financial affairs and a discussion of broad financial trends prior to making a recommendation on an insurance product or an investment/securities product.”
One point I found interesting is that, in the past, we’ve thought of this guidance as related to “source of funds”; that is, a specific focus on where the funds are coming from, and who can provide what level advice on those funds. While that’s still something that is being addressed in this bulletin, the #2 reason the department cited is related but broader than just source of funds. It goes to the growing discussions and developing regulations around how financial services are provided to consumers and what standard of care is owed to those consumers of financial services.
With NY’s proposed changes to their suitability regulation (which includes a number of significant changes, one of which is including life insurance within the suitability standards) as well as the questions of what will become of the DOL rule and what will the SEC do, as well as the NAICs current work on incorporating “best interest” standards into the suitability model, it’s clear that there are lots of questions around how financial transactions should be handled and what the burdens of the financial professionals are to ensure consumers are getting the “best” products and services for their needs.
With this bulletin, VT is stepping into the arena to add a bit more clarity at least around who can provide what services, and what types of discussions are permissible depending on the licensing and/or registration the financial professional holds. While only two other states have issued nearly identical guidance, we think it’s prudent for financial professionals to follow these guidelines regardless of what states they live in.
Why? Because this language is the most detailed we’ve seen, except in TN and IA and by using it as a benchmark of how financial discussions should be had and what the limits of those discussions may be, it allows financial professionals to say that they are trying their best to provide advice that they’re qualified to give without stepping over any boundaries. It shows a commitment to using integrity with consumers, and that even for states outside of VT, IA, and TN, it may provide a “safe haven” of sorts to be able to show documentation of complying with these regulations.