Guest Opinion: Great Recession lessons lost on Trump

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Feb. 7
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The 2008 economic meltdown didn’t occur by accident. Wall Street engaged in overly risky investment practices that took advantage of relaxed regulations by President Barack Obama’s predecessors. His fixes to halt those risky practices had one goal in mind: to make sure Wall Street didn’t crash the nation’s economy once again.

President Donald Trump wants to unleash Wall Street anew by repealing parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. And Rep. Ann Wagner, an influential GOP House member from Missouri, is urging him on as if the nation’s all-too-recent economic calamity yielded no lessons about the need for tighter control.

Trump plans to delay implementation of an Obama administration regulation to block financial advisers from pushing high-fee investment plans from which they can personally profit. The regulation requires financial advisers to put their clients’ best interests ahead of their own profits. It also raises the standards for investment advice from brokers handling retirement accounts.

Trump’s justification for his review of Dodd-Frank is that it appears to have inconvenienced some of his friends. “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” Trump said Friday, before a signing ceremony where Wagner stood at his side.

Trump said he will direct the Department of Labor to stop implementation of the so-called “fiduciary rule.” A Trump administration official told CNN the rule is “a complete mess,” would create unintended consequences and was protecting consumers “from something they don’t need protection from.” The official added that it overly limited investment account managers’ options and was expensive for them to implement.

From what we can tell, the entire focus of Trump’s move is to improve the lives of investment managers, not the small- and medium-income investors who supposedly would benefit from it.

Opponents have said implementation of the Obama administration rule would hurt small investors by raising costs and putting financial advice out of their reach. It could put some financial services advisers out of business, critics say.

But the White House Council of Economic Advisers reported that advice from investment managers with conflicts of interest costs Americans around $17 billion a year. The council broke it down to say that a 45-year-old citizen with $100,000 in retirement savings could lose $37,000 through such conflicts by the age of 65.

Some investment firms, such as Merrill Lynch and LPL, already appear to be policing themselves for conflicts of interest. WealthManagement.com says debate over the pending rule has prompted growing public awareness about the dangers of conflicted investment advice.

Trump campaigned on a promise to protect America’s working class. So why does he appear to be doing the opposite?