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"Last Week Tonight" for DOL Fiduciary Rule

June 20, 2016

Great satire makes you howl with laughter while at the same time raising doubts about the individual or institution being skewered.  John Oliver – a wonderfully talented satirist and host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” – did just that when he confronted some of the questionable practices of the financial services industry that contributed to the Department of Labor's new fiduciary rule.

Here's the video below, but let me give you fair warning:

  1. It's not a very flattering portrayal of the financial services industry.

  2. It's a cable television program so the language he uses contains more than a few profanities.

If either of those offend you, then don't click on the link. But if you're interested in what millions of Americans watched live last week – and what millions more have subsequently viewed on YouTube, then you really need to see the program.

Satire only works if it's based on a kernel of truth. And while Oliver takes that kernel and transforms it into an extra large order of popcorn (with lots of butter), his basic point – that financial products are overly complex and some unscrupulous companies take advantage of consumers' ignorance – rings true with many folks across the country.

Oliver’s commentary made it clear to me why policymakers believe the DOL rules were needed in the first place:

  1. The enormous distrust – much of it a remnant of the Great Recession of 2007-08 – that consumers have about “Wall Street,” which includes almost all financial products, financial institutions, and financial advisors.

  2. The fact that the defined benefit pension plans Americans relied on to ensure a comfortable retirement are all but gone. Today, consumers are on their own and must make decisions about saving and investing for their retirement – whether through a 401(k) or an IRA – without a pension safety net.

That's a powerful combination of forces that frightens many consumers and includes people close to a traditional retirement age (that would be me) and those just starting out.

But every dark cloud has a silver lining. And for many consumers, fraternals may be a ray of hope.

As you're viewing the program, ask yourself what your society and its field force can do to overcome consumer doubt and inspire trust.

It might be the fact that fraternal products are often more “plain vanilla” – simple, straightforward, and understandable – than those offered by other financial services providers. And, while our products may not always be the low-cost leader, the earnings from the sale of those products help to fund programs and facilitate community service activities that reflect the members’ shared values. Oh, and that’s another thing. Fraternals are composed of members – not policyholders. Sure, people purchase our products to secure their families’ financial futures. But, in doing so, they also help improve the lives of others in their backyards and across the country. So, do fraternal products meet the “best interests” of the consumer standard established by the Department of Labor? You bet they do.

I'd love to hear your comments on the program. But I'd really love to hear what you're doing to address all the concerns that Oliver raises in his bitingly funny and deeply disturbing commentary.