The president is right: financial advisers and companies that take advantage of hardworking Americans saving for retirement by recommending financial products that benefit themselves more than their clients don’t deserve to be in business.  They should absolutely be held accountable -- through fines, by being barred from working in financial services or, in the worst cases, serious jail time.    

No one should be exposed to advisers who cheat clients with self-interested advice or –worse yet – break the law by providing improper advice. That’s not what trusted financial partners do. The vast majority of financial advisers work hard every day to promote secure and sensible retirement savings plans for their clients.  


This spring, the Obama administration’s Department of Labor proposed a new set of regulations that will require retirement investment advisers to make sure the advice given is in the client’s “best interest”. That’s something we can all agree upon. In fact, several federal regulators already hold financial professionals to such a “best interest” standard. The real issue is how best to achieve that standard. 

Because while we all agree that existing laws should be adjusted to clarify that a “best interest” standard always applies, it should not take several hundred pages of incredibly complex regulations and miles of red tape to accomplish this common-sense, agreed-upon goal. A simpler, more coordinated approach is needed.  

Numerous regulators including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and state government authorities already have rules in place to address concerns about advisors who are not properly doing their job. The well-respected, non-partisan Government Accountability Office even highlighted this overlapping system of regulations as part of a recent report to the U.S. Congress.

But the lack of coordination between federal agencies in enforcing these regulations to protect investors’ best interests has to stop. Regulators should adopt a simple clarification to rules under labor, banking, commodities, insurance, and securities laws to make it clear that advice must serve the client’s “best interests” in all circumstances -- always.  

Congress should do their part as well: 1) put a lid on new regulations that are duplicative and overlap with current rules; 2) maintain and even increase enforcement resources for financial regulators; 3) adopt a clear solution for advisor compensation disclosures – so that customers can clearly understand what they’re buying and how its paid for. 

We don’t need telephone-books sized disclosures that intimidate investors and most won’t read anyway. We do need to maintain – and enforce -- laws to hold accountable anyone who abuses retirement savers’ trust. When bad-actor advisers break the law, they should face real consequences. So should any company that employs them.

And such a renewed focus on enforcement matters crucially. Too often, there is a rush to add more rules -- even before the current rules are fully or properly enforced. But even the best rules don’t mean much unless they are enforced. It’s that simple.

It is also troubling to note the administration’s overly complicated proposal could create damaging – and unintended -- consequences both for employees who work for small businesses and for individual retirement savers with lower-balance accounts.

The sheer complexity of the proposal could discourage small companies from either starting or sustaining workplace savings plans – the key means for raising working Americans’ retirement savings. This runs directly counter to the administration’s professed goal of expanding access to workers who lack workplace savings plans today. And the increased paperwork, administrative burdens and legal risk the proposed rule would impose could also make it hard for investment advisors to serve small individual account holders at all. These are the people who need investment guidance the most.  

Simple and clear changes can – and should -- be made to ensure investment advice is in a client’s best interest. Advisers who violate the best interest standard should be  held fully accountable. But we don’t need a bull rush of fresh red tape. 

If we bear these key principles in mind – real coordination, clarity, enforcement and accountability -- then policymakers, industry and legislators can all work together to improve financial security for hardworking Americans savings for retirement. All it will take is common sense and teamwork. Let’s do it. 

Pawlenty was the Republican governor of Minnesota from 2003 to 2011. He is president and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable. Reynolds is president and CEO of Great-West Financial and Putnam Investments.