The economic implications of the department of labor’s 2010 proposals for broker-dealers

In 2010, the Department of Labor proposed changes that would eliminate third-party incentive payments, such as 12b-1 fees, that may encourage broker-dealers to sell highfee mutual funds to Individual Retirement Account (IRA) customers. The investment industry argues that eliminating these fees could force broker-dealers to charge directly for advice, which could result in less advice being provided and customers making poor investment decisions. This article examines the trade-off between lower fees and poor investment decisions. Our best estimate is that the elimination of 12b-1 fees would reduce IRA customer costs by 4 basis points. If broker-dealers responded by moving customers from high-cost, actively managed funds into low-cost index funds, IRA customers could save another 7 basis points. Broker-dealers are unlikely to change their business model with respect to the provision of advice as a result of the loss of 12b-1 fees. The article also uses an inter-temporal optimization model to quantify the potential benefits and costs of reform to households. This exercise points to relatively modest potential benefits, but even more modest costs under plausible assumptions. Several more extensive reforms are suggested to ensure that IRA savings are invested more effectively.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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