Government Affairs Update

April 19, 2021

TOP NEWS

Gensler Confirmed as Chair of the SEC
The Senate confirmed the nomination of Gary Gensler to serve as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week by a vote of 53-45. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) joined with Senate Democrats in voting to confirm Gensler. While confirmed as Chair, technically, he has only been confirmed to serve for the remainder of former Chairman Jay Clayton’s term. A second nomination and vote for a full five-year term are expected in the Senate later this week. Gensler is viewed as a battle-tested veteran “watchdog” who will lead the Biden administration’s agenda to boost oversight of Wall Street. It is expected that he will lead work on sweeping new federal regulations that would seek to expand disclosure requirements, especially in areas that intersect with Democratic policy priorities such as climate change, campaign finance, and diversity and increase shareholder activity, while integrating with other key elements of the Biden administration’s broader economic policy agenda. IRI issued a press statement immediately following the Senate’s vote, in which IRI President and CEO Wayne Chopus expressed congratulations to the new Chairman and that IRI is looking forward to working with him to address the retirement security challenges America’s workers and retirees are facing as they seek to save for and produce sustainable lifetime income during their retirement years.

 

Any questions should be referred to Paul Richman or Jason Berkowitz.

Top Ways and Means Republican Announces His Retirement

Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) announced that he would not be seeking reelection. In a statement, Representative Brady said, “I set out to give my constituents the representation you deserve, the effectiveness you want, and the economic freedom you need. I hope I delivered. It’s a remarkable privilege to work for you in the U.S. House of Representatives. Thanks to your strong support, I’ve been blessed with many unbelievable opportunities to lead, including becoming only the third Texan in history to chair the House Ways & Means Committee. I’ll never forget the trust you gave me these many years.”

In a statement, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) highlighted the working relationship he has with Rep. Brady, saying: “Our working relationship has always been predicated on doing our best for this country we both love so dearly, and I respect his commitment to the people of Texas’s 8th Congressional District. From the Family First Prevention Services Act to the SECURE Act, Ranking Member Brady and I have been able to overcome ideological differences time and time again to partner on behalf of the American people.” To build on their work together to enact the SECURE Act, Representatives Brady and Neal also sponsored the Securing a Strong Retirement Act in the last Congress to improve employer-provided retirement plans for workers by enhancing access and features.

IRI will continue to monitor the Ways and Means Committee for action on retirement security legislation.

Any questions should be referred to John Jennings.

 

LEGISLATIVE NEWS

IRI Blueprint Bill Passes Out of the House this Evening

H.R. 1996, the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, was passed by House this evening by a vote of 321 to 101. The SAFE Banking Act, sponsored by Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Warren Davidson (R-OH), provides protection and insulation from liability to both participants and institutions offering and administering retirement plans or individual retirement accounts for the employees of cannabis companies and associated businesses regulated and licensed by a state. IRI called for the enactment of the bill in the 2021 Federal Retirement Security Blueprint.

Prior to the vote, IRI submitted a letter supporting the bill to the sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act. IRI will continue to monitor Congress for action on IRI Blueprint proposals.

Any questions should be referred to John Jennings.

DOL Deputy Secretary Nominee Slated for Committee Vote

President Biden’s nominee to serve as Deputy Labor Secretary, Julie Su, will receive a vote in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on April 21. Su appeared before the committee for a confirmation hearing on March 16 and likely faces a close vote in committee on whether to advance her nomination to the full Senate. Committee Republicans were critical of Su’s oversight of a California subagency that has paid out at least $11 billion in fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, with another $20 billion tabbed for review as suspicious. IRI expects the Committee vote on Su will be a strict party-line vote, but that will be enough to advance her nomination to the Senate floor for consideration in the coming weeks. IRI will provide an update following the vote.

Any questions should be referred to Paul Richman.

 

House RILA Champion to Resign from Congress

Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) announced his retirement from Congress earlier today. The Representative will step down from his seat effective on May 16. In a press statement, Rep. Stivers said, “It has been my honor and privilege to serve the people of Ohio’s 15th Congressional District. Throughout my career in public service, I’ve working to promote policies that drive our economy forward, get folks to work, and put our country’s fiscal house in order.” Rep. Stivers is a member of the House Financial Services Committee and was a lead cosponsor of the Registration for Index-Linked Annuities (RILA) Act. Enactment of the bill, which would direct the SEC to develop new registration forms better suited to insurance products such as registered index-linked annuities, is called for in IRI’s 2021 Federal Retirement Security Blueprint.

IRI will continue to work with our RILA task force to seek out a new Republican lead sponsor to help advance the RILA Act.

Any questions should be referred to John Jennings.

 

Financial Services Committee to Hold a Markup Tomorrow

On April 20, the House Committee on Financial Services will hold a markup tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. to consider, among other items, legislation related to environmental, societal, and governance data in SEC filings, and economic diversity, equity, and inclusivity. The Committee will also consider two resolutions establishing task forces to study Artificial Intelligence and Financial Technology. Bills and amendments under consideration are:

  • H.R. 1087, the “Shareholder Political Transparency Act.”
  • An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 1, offered by Mr. Foster.

  • H.R. 1187, the “ESG Disclosure Simplification Act.”
    • An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 2, offered by Mr. Vargas.

  • H.R. 1277, the “Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act.”
    •  An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 3, offered by Mr. Meeks.

  •  H.R. 2123, the “Diversity and Inclusion Data Accountability and Transparency Act.”
    •  An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 4, offered by Ms. Beatty.

  •  H.R. 2516, the “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Banking Act.”
    • An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 5, offered by Mr. Green.

  • H.R. 2543, the “Federal Reserve Racial and Economic Equity Act.”
    •  An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 6, offered by Ms. Waters.

  • H.R. 2547, the “Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act.”
    •  An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 7, offered by Ms. Waters.

  • H.R. 2553, the “Real Estate Valuation Fairness and Improvement Act of 2021.”
    • An amendment in the nature of a substitute, no. 8, offered by Mr. Cleaver.

IRI will monitor the markup and provide updates as necessary.

Any questions should be referred to John Jennings.

 

REGULATORY NEWS 

Department of Labor Issues FAQs on Investment Advice Fiduciary PTE

Last week, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued two sets of “FAQs” as additional guidance on fiduciary investment advice. The two documents are designed to be presented to different audiences: one for retail investors and one for industry. Both documents suggest biased views against non-fiduciary advisors and the annuity industry generally. For example, the consumer-facing document states that “[h]iring a fiduciary, as opposed to a non-fiduciary, will help ensure that your interests are protected from harmful conflicts of interest.” The industry-facing document also highlights a lack of understanding of how the annuity industry works. This is particularly evident in their discussion of the new PTE in the context of the independent distribution channel (see Q18 on pp 13-14). In several places throughout the document, the DOL clearly states that they intend to undertake further rulemaking in this space. This could include another attempt to modify the five-part test for fiduciary status, the requirements of PTE 2020-02, PTE 84-24, and other pre-existing exemptions and guidance.

IRI has initiated a dialogue with our Standard of Conduct Task Force to assess the implications of the FAQs, both in terms of preparations for compliance with the new PTE by December 20 (when the existing non-enforcement policy will expire) as well as potential future rulemaking.  

Any questions should be referred to Jason Berkowitz.

 

DOL Issues Cybersecurity Guidance for Plan Sponsors, Plan Fiduciaries, Record Keepers, and Plan Participants

Last week, the DOL issued new cybersecurity guidance to include “best practices for maintaining cybersecurity, including tips on how to protect the retirement benefits of America’s workers.” This is the first issuance of cybersecurity guidance from the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) and was accompanied by EBSA’s press release.

The guidance is directed to retirement plan sponsors and fiduciaries, record-keepers, participants, and beneficiaries, with guidance specifically tailored to each audience:

  • Tips for Hiring a Service Provider: Helps plan sponsors and fiduciaries prudently select a service provider with strong cybersecurity practices and monitor their activities, as ERISA requires.
  • Cybersecurity Program Best Practices: Assists plan fiduciaries and record-keepers in their responsibilities to manage cybersecurity risks.
  • Online Security Tips: Offers plan participants and beneficiaries who check their retirement accounts basic online rules to reduce the risk of fraud and loss.

Per the related EBSA press release, this new cybersecurity guidance “complements EBSA’s regulations on electronic records and disclosures to plan participants and beneficiaries.” IRI will share this guidance with our Retirement Plans and Tax Committee related to plan-sponsors, record keepers, and fiduciaries. We will also share this information with IRI’s Consumer Protection Committee to include our members in considering and reacting to this new DOL cybersecurity guidance.

Any questions should be referred to Emily Micale or John Jennings.

NAIC Innovation and Technology Task Force Votes to Establish a Working Group on E-Commerce

Last week the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) agreed to establish a working group dedicated to making recommendations on e-commerce issues that have emerged due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Innovation and Technology Task Force decided to set up a committee to survey insurers on best practices and eventually provide uniform guidance on the use of e-signatures, e-notarizations, and other documents. Jon Godfread, Chair of the task force and North Dakota Insurance Commissioner, said the working group should move quickly to maintain the momentum gained due to the pandemic. 

 Any questions should be referred to Jason Berkowitz

NAIC Annuities Committee Votes to Disband Disclosure Working Group

During the NAIC’s Spring National Meeting last week, the Life Insurance and Annuities (A) Committee voted to disband its Annuity Disclosure Working Group. The Working Group had been working toward revising “Section 6-Standards for Annuity Illustrations in the Annuity Disclosure Model Regulation (#245)” to impose stricter standards for products that have been in existence for relatively short periods (less than 15 years). The vote to disband comes after the A Committee approved an extension of the working group in the fall of 2020. The Working Group was chaired by the Iowa Insurance Division, and in supporting the motion to disband, Iowa Commissioner Doug Ommen observed that there was not “sufficient commissioner and regulator support for the project.”

Any questions should be referred to Jason Berkowitz.