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ETF Monkey And The Fiduciary Rule

Earlier today, President Trump signed an executive order delaying the implementation of the fiduciary rule, an Obama-era Labor Department rule that requires brokers to act in a client’s best interest, rather than seek the highest profits for themselves, when providing retirement advice.

While the merits of this rule are a subject of fierce debate, anyone interested in saving and investing towards their retirement has a vested interest in this topic.

What does all of this have to do with me? For a little over a year-and-a-half, I have been writing using the pseudonym ETF Monkey. My first article using this pseudonym for Seeking Alpha was published on June 3, 2015. Shortly before that, I wrote a series of educational articles on my personal blog, including this primer on the basics of ETFs.

Why did I decide to embark on this adventure? Simply put, because of my belief that it may well be possible for many investors--even those of modest means and who may not understand intricate financial concepts--to build low-cost, diversified portfolios that allow them to access the power of financial markets without incurring hefty, ongoing fees for financial "advice." I won't bore you by repeating the information so wonderfully explained in the articles I linked above. Essentially, though, it comes down to this. The fiduciary rule requires financial advisors to put their clients' needs ahead of their own, as opposed to current rules which simply require that they provide "suitable" investments for their clients. 

What's the difference, you ask? In a nutshell, this. Say there are two competing products that essentially contain the same assets, say for example two funds that invest in U.S. stocks. However, one of the funds charges a 2% annual fee but pays a hefty commission to the financial advisor, whereas the other only charges a .5% annual fee but pays no commission to the advisor. Both meet the legal test of being "suitable." But I think you can see the inherent conflict of interest for the financial advisor. The product with the lower annual fee, all other things being equal, would be better for the client. But the advisor would miss out on that commission.

In contrast, harnessing the power of both ETFs themselves as well as the commission-free trading that many brokerages offer, it is my contention that investors can do very well for themselves. To close out this brief article, please allow me to share one simple example. Recently, I built a portfolio for millennials. This portfolio is comprised of a mere 7 ETFs, all of which can be traded free of commissions using the brokerage I recommend. Between them, the ETFs cover U.S. stocks of all sizes from small to large, foreign stocks in both developed and emerging markets, REITS, and bonds. The annual fee? A weighted .07598%. That's right. Less than 8/100ths of one percent.

However you feel about the fiduciary rule, please understand that my work doesn't cost you anything other than the time to read it, and you will find everything I share to be fully-disclosed and completely transparent.

Whatever your decisions, I wish you . . .

Happy investing!