SEC poised to adopt rules aimed at preventing broker conflicts, boosting disclosure

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By Katanga Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Wednesday will vote to adopt a package of rules mandating brokerage firms disclose potential conflicts in the fees investors pay and the commission brokers earn when giving financial advice.

The Regulation Best Interest rule also requires brokers to raise the advice standard to meet a client's best interest when recommending stocks, mutual funds and other financial products.

The vote caps a 10-year battle over regulation of the investment advice industry which last year saw lobby groups successfully sue to overturn a similar Barack Obama-era fiduciary standard proposed by the Department of Labor.

The SEC rule, if adopted, will be a win for Wall Street because, unlike the Labor rule, it would still allow brokers to recommend products that benefit them, provided they disclose the conflict.

The SEC rule prescribes what brokers must do to comply, a step-up up from the current suitability standard that allows brokers to recommend products that they view as appropriate for a client's investment goals and risk tolerance.

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, a Republican appointee, says the proposed rule would elevate the standard for both broker dealers and wealth managers.

Investor advocates, however, say the SEC rule is too vague in its definition of "best interest" and does not address all investment advice conflicts, including the higher payments that brokers receive for selling products that are more expensive to trade.

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"The SEC under Clayton pledged to protect Mr. and Mrs. 401K at the onset of crafting regulation best interest. The proposed rule-making is a betrayal of that promise," said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Washington-based Consumer Federation of America.

The rule has been divisive within the agency. Robert Jackson, a Democrat-appointed commissioner, has said the proposed rule does not make any serious attempts to understand the costs and benefits for investors as the economic analysis supporting the agency's rules is too weak. If he fails to vote for the rule on Wednesday, his dissent could open it up to potential litigation from consumer groups.

The three Republican-appointed voting members are expected to vote for the package of rules.

Industry groups say that the rule's heightened disclosure requirements will benefit consumers.

"Investment advice is not 'one-size-fits-all' and neither is this rule's oversight approach, which allows for the current brokerage business model to be upheld while protecting investors from harm," said Samantha DeZur, U.S. Chamber of Commerce director for capital markets competitiveness.

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Michelle Price and Lisa Shumaker)

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