When Congress took on the nation's financial system in a wide-ranging bill signed into law in July, nearly every aspect of our economic lives was touched. Now, Mary Wallace, AARP's senior legislative representative, helps sort through the details.
Q: How does the financial regulatory reform bill help protect older Americans?
A: There are two sides to this bill that will affect older Americans directly — the banking and credit side with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) — and then there's the investment side with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The new CFPB is going to make sure that when you buy financial products like loans, mortgages and credit cards, you're going to understand what you're buying because the disclosures are going to be in plain language.
Another outcome of this bill is the establishment of an Office of the Investor Advocate at the SEC. This office is like an ombudsman who acts on behalf of investors who encounter problems in their dealings with the SEC or brokers or any aspect of securities transaction, so there's somebody there for folks to reach out to.
Q: What is a fiduciary standard and how does the new legislation affect it?
A: Right now, broker/dealers selling securities are not regulated under a fiduciary duty, which means they don't legally have to put the client's interest ahead of their own. Under the new law, the SEC is in the process of conducting a study to examine this issue, and we hope they will move forward with regulations to either impose the same fiduciary standard as investment advisers, who are already subject to such a standard under the Investment Advisers Act, or a very similar standard.