Massachusetts issues guidelines for using third-party robo-advisers

By Susan P. Altman and C. Todd Gibson

In April 2016, the Massachusetts Securities Division issued a policy statement with respect to the fiduciary obligations of state-registered advisers providing robo-advice.  The MSD has now issued further regulatory guidance in a new Policy Statement with respect to the use of third-party robo-advisers by state-registered investment advisers.  The MSD noted the significant growth in popularity of third-party robo-advisers and the increasing number of state-registered investment advisers working with third-party robo-advisers.

The new guidance describes minimum disclosure that state-registered investment advisers using third-party robo-advisers must provide to investors in order to meet Massachusetts regulatory requirements, including:

  • Clearly identifying the robo-advisers and explaining their services;
  • Notifying investors that, when applicable, they could get the services directly from the robo-adviser without paying additional fees to the state-registered investment adviser;
  • Describing the value provided to the investor by the state-registered investment adviser;
  • Specifically identifying the services the state-registered adviser cannot perform, such as having no ability to access, select, change or customize the portfolio structure or investment products at the robo-adviser;
  • Identifying limitations of available investment products offered to the client through the robo-adviser; and
  • Using customized, easy-to-understand disclosure language.

Most importantly perhaps, the investment advisers must charge an advisory fee that is reasonable in light of fees charged by others providing essentially the same services.  An investor is usually charged a fee by both the investment adviser and the robo-adviser based on a percentage of the investor’s assets under management.  Massachusetts state-regulated advisers will have to demonstrate the value behind the fees they charge on top of the robo-adviser’s fees, such as specialized knowledge of the products or the investor’s personal circumstances.

The Policy Statement can be found here.

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