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White House Moves To Protect Investors From Bad Retirement Advice

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news. The White House says President Obama today will move to crack down on parts of Wall Street. It's a proposal to protect Americans from conflicted and bad retirement advice. The president is directing the Department of Labor to craft new rules to require financial advisers to put their clients' interests ahead of their own. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: If you have a retirement investment account and you get help making investment decisions from a financial adviser, there are some things you should probably know. Jeff Zients is the director of the White House National Economic Council.

JEFF ZIENTS: Too many financial advisers have sales incentives to steer responsible Americans into bad retirement investments with high fees and lower returns that leave their clients with less in retirement.

ARNOLD: Zients says not all advisers are stuffing their pockets at the expense of clients. But...

ZIENTS: Your adviser isn't required to put your interests first. Most people don't even realize this is happening. They aren't aware of the hidden fees or backdoor payments to their advisers.

ARNOLD: So the president today is calling on the Department of Labor to change all that. The White House also invited 85-year-old Jack Bogle to its press briefing. Bogle created the world's first low-fee index fund, and he founded the mutual fund company Vanguard.

JACK BOGLE: For as long as I can remember, I have pressed for a federal standard of fiduciary duty, a simple standard, a simple rule that stresses that clients come first.

ARNOLD: The concept is simple, but the difficult details of just how to accomplish that aren't there yet. David Swensen is the chief investment officer for Yale University's $24 billion endowment, and he's written a book to help everyday Americans invest their retirement savings.

DAVID SWENSEN: This is incredibly important.

ARNOLD: Swensen says this rule, if done right, could help millions of Americans. For example, avoiding 2 percent in annual fees means you'll earn twice as much money 35 years down the road. But he says when this type of rule has been proposed in the past, Wall Street firms...

SWENSEN: They fight it tooth and nail because if they have to operate according to a fiduciary standard, their income is going to go down dramatically.

ARNOLD: Financial industry trade groups argue that imposing that standard would make it harder and more expensive for average Americans to get good advice. Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.