The retirement king is putting it out there ahead of most competitors, but there is some resentment that Fidelity failed to warn advisors

June 12, 2012 — 3:23 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler


Brooke’s Note: When all is said and done, the biggest aspect of the DOL’s rule changes is what is said on the piece of paper read by clients or prospective ones. How they react may determine the fate of 401(k) empires. Since Fidelity currently rules that empire, it was no doubt feeling greater suspense about what the people think who, so to speak, pay its bills. It now has plenty of feedback to work with but was it brusque in jumping in with both feet?

Fidelity Investments became one of the first major record keepers to start sending out the massive new fee disclosure forms to participants and plan sponsors alike back in April and has gotten about 600 calls in response, according to sources familiar with the company. See: Why the DOL’s massive new 401(k) disclosure requirements are a 'very, very big deal’.

Company spokesman Mike Shamrell, while declining to confirm the number of calls it received, says the feedback from participants and plan sponsors has been quite low and that there have been more calls from participants than from plan sponsors. He did not offer perspective about callers’ concerns.

As part of the new Department of Labor fee disclosure rules, vendors must send out disclosures by July 1 to plan sponsors. Further notices spelling out the costs of the 401(k) plans must be sent out to employees by Aug. 30.

Fidelity is the nation’s largest retirement provider — a giant in the defined-contribution arena — with more than 22,000 plans and more than 15.5 million participants. In 2011, Fidelity sold more than 1,400 plans totaling $6.6 billion in assets. In February, Fidelity Investments reported a 57% increase from a year earlier in plan sales to sponsors with retirement assets of less than $50 million. See: Fidelity reports 57% boost in 401(k) sales as it sets its sights on smaller plans and advisors.

Taking it to the deadline

Not all companies started sending out disclosures quite as early. In fact, Charles Schwab & Co. — a competitor in the 401(k) arena, just recently began sending out its notices, according to company spokeswoman Susan Forman. She says the fee disclosures for plan sponsors will be sent out before the July 1 deadline. She also says that the participant fee disclosures will be sent in July and August based on employer preference.

“The real story here, in my mind, is about providing quality data to plan sponsors from our open-architecture 401(k) plan platform that enables them to fully understand their plan costs,” Forman says. “We’re on track to deliver plan sponsor disclosures before the deadline.”

There have been a range of predictions about how participants and plan sponsors will respond to these mandated disclosures. Some have said they will fly by participants while others have forecast a firestorm of calls.

Mike Alfred: Assuming you have nothing to fear, then yes, it makes sense to send them as soon as possible.
Mike Alfred: Assuming you have nothing
to fear, then yes, it makes
sense to send them as soon
as possible.

Is the price right?

One advantage to sending out the notices earlier is making sure all of the information is accurate and that there’s no shock, says Rick Meigs, president of LLC in Portland, Ore.

“It does put the vendor ahead of the curve with their clients and communicates to them that they are proactive and on top of the issue. Plus it allows the vendor (or advisor) to deal with client questions and input, making adjustments if needed. The last thing a vendor wants is to make their disclosures at the deadline then discover some big surprise.”

BrightScope Inc. co-founder Mike Alfred agrees.

“Fidelity has been consistent in providing robust and timely disclosures,” he says. “Assuming you have nothing to fear, then yes, it makes sense to send them as soon as possible to give your clients as much time as possible to prepare for participant questions and concerns later in the year.”

Alfred adds that the early notices give plan sponsors a chance to react and respond to the disclosures. “The other advantage is that it can demonstrate that you are confident that your fees are reasonable and that you have nothing to hide. The signaling issue can be an important one with new regulations like this. The relative simplicity or complexity of participant disclosures will also be a window in to how strong or vulnerable a provider is feeling.”

Disclosures happen

One downside of Fidelity’s early disclosure was that it left some advisors surprised when they learned that companies had begun sending out the disclosures without giving them a heads up.

Advisor Jim Marshall, president and founder of Spectrum Investment Advisors Inc., a Mequon, Wis., RIA with about $775 million assets in management, says he was shocked when he learned from a plan sponsor that Fidelity had sent out a notice.

Marshall has three main firms he uses for 401(k) plans — Great-West Retirement Services, Fidelity and the Principal Financial Group Inc. He said they’ve now all started sending out disclosures but that he was surprised when Fidelity started it so early — back in April.

“It just kind of happened,” he says. “With the larger record keepers, the average advisor really felt blindsided,” he says. “Things went out without much dialogue to the advisor.”

Marshall’s average 401(k) plan is about $10 million to $12 million in assets, but he has plans that are as large as $200 million in assets and as small as $1 million.

When Marshall got the phone call from the plan sponsor, he began to ensure that all of his 401(k) agreements were up to date with the new rules. He feels his company has done an excellent job with participant communication because he has had multiple educational meetings with participants and hasn’t had any calls from them with questions about the dislosures.

unintended consequences

Rick Meigs: The last thing a vendor wants is to make their disclosures at the deadline then discover some big surprise.
Rick Meigs: The last thing a
vendor wants is to make their
disclosures at the deadline then discover
some big surprise.

Marshall’s not alone. In fact, attorney Jason Roberts, founder and chief executive of Pension Resource Institute LLC, which works with RIAs and brokers alike, says a number of advisors have been caught off guard and been frustrated because record keepers have been sending out disclosures without notifying them.

“I’m seeing a lot of unintended consequences.” he says. “They want to carefully construct an information campaign to get these participants aware of the reasonableness of the compensation and explain all of the fees to them so they can understand that they’re not getting gauged.”

Education trail

For its part, Shamrell says, Fidelity communicated a great deal about the disclosures to advisors. He says the firm held webcasts on Sept. 20, and Nov. 2 of last year explaining to advisors how the firm would meet the disclosures and the timing of the disclosures.

The firm also created a brochure for advisors, outlining the regulatory requirement for fee disclosure, that was distributed both electronically and in person by sales and service personnel.

In addition, Fidelity sent all advisors and their plan sponsors a letter confirming that their plan was on Fidelity’s Fee Disclosure Service and providing dates when the disclosure would be sent to participants.

In March, the firm sent advisors and their plan sponsor clients a mock-up of the initial participant disclosure for their specific plan with enough lead time to proofread the document and make corrections.

Mentioned in this article:

Pension Resource Institute, LLC
Consulting Firm, Compliance Expert, 401k Plan Consultant
Top Executive: Jason C. Roberts

Retirement Law Group, PC
Regulatory Attorney, 401k Plan Consultant, Attorney
Top Executive: Jason C. Roberts

Share your thoughts and opinions with the author or other readers.


Stephen Winks said:

September 14, 2012 — 2:38 PM UTC


Nice words which belie your actions which are indeed highly personal in nature, not the dispassionate reason you suggest. Further, you take exception to facts such as law and characterize it as opinion.

You do not meet your own high standards of discourse you require of others and once you disparage and cast aspersions you then fall back to the language of dispassioonate reasoning citing irrelevent rationale.

The fact is, you can neither defend your patently outrageous observations nor have the grace to engage in civil discourse. Unexcusable in a public forum.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 14, 2012 — 1:04 PM UTC

My goal is to think critically and dispassionately about professional matters and learn. I have no axe to grind nor argument to make – other than professional statements should follow fiduciary guidelines of probity and evidence.

Driven by supposed public anxiety and well interest groups, it appears the government
rushes to solve most “problems” before really studying it and possible solutions. That’s human nature and politics but not professional.

The government is driven by political pressures of the moment and in the past has supported many, many untenable positions. The amateur historian in me would cite slavery, etc. Having laws passed does not make anything factually true and overreaction by legislatures is common. They have to get reelected and drama always helps.

It would seem a useful demonstration of the fiduciary practices that RIAs hold dear to discuss the facts in the matter of brokers vs RIAs, the main topic it appears, using evidence, pricipaled (not personal) argument and temperate emotions. Hard to do, I understand.


Stephen Winks said:

September 13, 2012 — 10:47 PM UTC


I welcome your putting this thread on Linked-In.

If you concider an Act of Congress and Statute, no evidence, then I would love to hear your counter arguement.

As for professional behavior and the protection of the investing public—are you suggesting brokers are acting in a fiduciary capacity based on statute, case law and regulatory opinion letters? Why not state your case with the empiracle certainty you demand. I am can’t wait for the debate to begin.

The ball is in your court.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 13, 2012 — 10:15 PM UTC

Bottom line: You have no evidence and you ignore your inherent conflicts. So these are nothing but self-serving, unsubstantiated and imprudent defamatory statements.

Exactly the kind of professional behavior fiduciary standards are designed to protect the public against.


Stephen Winks said:

September 13, 2012 — 8:48 PM UTC


Just as I was forewarned, obvious and easily substantiated answers simply somehow do not register with you. 16% of the population think we didn’t land on the moon. You are apparently part of that fringe element.

Let me once again explain:

“Brokers are not accountable nor responsible for their recommendations” because their supporting broker/dealers say so, confirmed by thousands of arbitration proceedings that reaffirm the industry’s contention that brokers do not render advice nor have a fiduciary duty to act in the client’s best interest.

You may not like this answer but it is indesputable.

Broker dealers do not want tens of thousands of brokers each independently rendering advice for which the broker/dealer is liable. Nordo broker/dealers want brokers to acknowledge their fiduciary duty to act in the consumer’s best interest. Essentially broker/dealers are structured to assure no advice is rendered to avert fiduciary liability.Could it be more clear?

So why would you suggest otherwise when, broker/dealers themselves have no arguement with my observation. I wish it weren’t so. Congress wishes it weren’t so. Your suggestion that there are new alarming charges being made, suggests you must be new to the financial services industry or are not well informed of the highly publicized debate concerning the fiduciary standing of brokers and the brokerage industry’s push back on the broker’s accountability and responsibility for recommendations.

I am surprised and somewhat shocked you would even raise such questions, especially in such a public forum, given you are acting in an advisory capacity with your clients.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 13, 2012 — 7:27 PM UTC

The question is one of evidence you have to support you claims and what material benefits do you receive, or potential conflicts do you have regarding your claims. These are simple matters.

For example — “Thus brokers by design are neither accountable or responsible for their recommendations.” This is your opinion and not a proven fact. You have a financial interest in making this claim. So your statements fail the basic fiduciary requirements or independence and proof. Yet, you loudly proclaim you are in adherence while others are not.

Where is there independent evidence that brokers are not acting in client’s best interest? Saying “everyone knows’ presumes what you need to prove and called “hand waving” in professional circles.

Saying brokers universally act against client’s interestes is a serious charge. You need to prove it and be open critical questioning. If you are convinced of your rightness you should welcome probing questions.

But, so far, your statements are neither factual, uninterested nor following fiduciary standards for professional conduct.

I have posted this discussion on Linked In so maybe some more balanced voices can join us.


Stephen Winks said:

September 13, 2012 — 4:42 PM UTC


Perhaps you have not heard. Congress has passed the Dodd-Frank Act which requires brokers who are providing advice to be held to the same fiduciary standard ad advisors.

This is contraversial because it is a violation of internal compliance protocol of every brokerage firm for brokers to acknowledge that they render advice or have a fiduciary obligation to act in the client’s best interest. This is because the brokerage industry treats advice as a product the broker sells rather than an expert authenticated prudent investment process the advisor manages. The brokerage industry is not prepared to acknowledge or support fiducuciary standing with the necessary enabling resources (process, technology, work flow management, expert advisory services support) necessary to mitigate fiduciary liability. Thus brokers by design are neither accountable or responsible for their recommendations.

I can go into great depth on why this is so and how brokers can safely render achieve fiduciary standing in their clients best interest.

Should I go any further?

The presumption in your question is that you were not aware that brokers are not acting in a fiduciary capacity. Brokers make their clients aware of their investment alternatives, but do not offer investment advice under their suitability standard. It is up to the consumer to determine investment merit on their own, regardless of how limited their investment knowledge and experiance may be. This has caused the loss of trust and confidence of the investing public that has required an act of Congress to resolve.

Because your reputation preceeds you, I expect you to take exception and am enthusiastically able to respond.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 13, 2012 — 12:44 AM UTC

I have asked two simple questions. Two questions which are the basis for fiduciary professional practices. Apparently you cannot or will not answer them.

Frankly, your comments are incoherent and highly defensive.

My interest is in discussing, soberly, the serious question of how do we know brokers are worse fiduciary stewards than RIAs. I wait to be enlightened.


Stephen Winks said:

September 12, 2012 — 11:48 PM UTC


You ego does not allow you to be objectively dispassionate as the intemperate comments are yours.

I am more than happy to go in depth on any fiduciary consideration, which is a passion of mine. I always reference objective, non-negotiable fiduciary criteria of statute, case law, regulatory opinion letters as well as best practices used at the highest end of the advisory services market around the world (Singapore and Hong Kong presently have a technological edge over the US), whether it entails authenticated prudent investment process, enabling technology, work flow management, conflict management and expert advisory services support by market segment and I continue to learn every day.

Elmer, what you don’t realize is no man is an island, there are a lot of good ideas out there, and they are not all yours. You do yourself no favors by working in a vacuum and insisting all opinions other than yours could not possibly be right.

Given the magnitude of the change now required in regulatory reform, this is not a good time to be strident in expressing your oppinion when you are not speaking from a position of certainty.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 12, 2012 — 8:53 PM UTC

How about we set aside the personal attacks and get back on the topic of fiduciary responsibility of your comments. To meet fiduciary standards for professional statements, you must provide:

- Transparency on the material benefits you might receive from the positions you hold and statements you make

- Independent, valid evidence and data to support your statements and claims. You have made many.

Are these not basic fiduciary requirements for professional behavior? Your intemperate opinions on my comments are irrelevant and suggest a weakness in your arguments and claims.

These are the same answers any plan sponsor would demand from you if you made statements or claims or recommendations.


Stephen Winks said:

September 12, 2012 — 6:04 PM UTC

Thanks Will.

I am getting that same impression. Logic, reason and incontravertable facts have no bearing in any discussion with Elmer.



Will Branch said:

September 12, 2012 — 3:19 PM UTC

Stephen, you have simply learned, as many of us have had to, that having a discussion with Elmer is akin to throwing your time, intelligence and effort into a proverbial black hole with respect to making headway with him specifically. Be heartened, though that the rest of us get to benefit from that effort. Cheers, Will


Stephen Winks said:

September 12, 2012 — 2:43 PM UTC


I deal with unequivical facts—you seem to ignor because they do not coincide with your personal opinion.

I welcome independent verification, which I have provided.

So,the problem you apparently do not see is if you don’t agree with verification, you think you have made a point—which could not be further frrom the truth. You have just established you have an unsubstantiated oppinion—which you are welcome to, but certainly no one has to agree with. Yet, your insisting agreement is an affront to the freedom of expression you cite in your defense. You are violating your own perogative.

This seems to be a pattern to which many,many reasonalble witnesses here have taken exception.

Your demand to say anything you wish, with out honoring that priviledge to others, by insisting on your thoughts onlyare to prevail, is an assult on opposing and far better substantiated views.

It is sad that you make such a feeble argument with serious people, and actually expect them to agree.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 12, 2012 — 12:08 AM UTC

Please provide links so others can review. Your other comments do not stand the test of being free of conflict. They may be factually true but still cannot be claimed as independent — nor dispassionate.

Certainly, you would agree that fiduciary standards require self-interested claims to be verified independently.

We can also suspect that Congress plays to the cheap seats. Congress proclaiming something does not mean it’s factually true.

As I understand it you are proposing:

- Self-reports of hypothetical rules skirting

- Is a basis for condemnation of this vast industry servings tens of millions of satisfied client

- Further you are suggesting other financial advisors do not have these potential issues

Is that a fair portrayal of your argument? Are these prudent statements following fiduciary standards?


Stephen Winks said:

September 11, 2012 — 10:22 PM UTC


You raised a good point—empiracle evidence substantiating claims. There have been several studies, the most recent by the law firm Labaton Sucharow on brokerage industry ethics. Though cetain activities may be legal, there are many ethical breaches. 24% of brokerage executives think crossing legal and ethical lines is essential to success and 26% have witnessed such behavior in their office. The survey was conducted by the market research firm Populus.

The brokerage industry of old, built on trust and the best interest of the investing public has long since cease to exist—as evidenced by industery push back against honoring the best interest of the investing public. Do you not agree. Congress certainly does.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 11, 2012 — 10:11 PM UTC

It is a misrepresentation to say I have “issues” and rhetorical tactic. These are public facts that are relevant to a public business in a highly regulated industry.

Blocking and covering-up the discussion of these facts supports secrecy which is counter to journalistic standards I am aware of.

In terms of balance, I don’t believe RIAZBiz has asked the Alfreds for their POV. That would seem the fair and open approach. But, it’s your site and BS is an potential advertiser. Understandable.


Stephen Winks said:

September 11, 2012 — 10:07 PM UTC


Do you actually believe brokers are accountable and responsible for their recommendations when their own firms do not acknowledge brokers render advice nor have any ongoing fiduciary responsibilities ? This is not debatable as the entire brokerage format is based on the premise that brokers do not provide advice nor are held to a fiduciary standard of care. Otherwise, there would be no controversey concerning brokers being held to a fiduciary standard of care. This is not demonization—it is stating fact which clarifies and crystalized the issues pertaining to fiduciary duty and the trust and confidence of the investing public.

I am more than willing to address any issue you wish, as long as you are engaged in discussing the facts rather than some imagined truth you solely cite.



Brooke Southall said:

September 11, 2012 — 9:34 PM UTC


I have to agree with Steve. This is just not the place for endless ax grinding. It simply doesn’t seem credible when you claim to be after transparency but you keep banging over and over on the same drum. We know you have issues with the Alfreds and it’s been duly noted – over and over. I deleted the comment.



Elmer Rich III said:

September 11, 2012 — 9:26 PM UTC

To the comments about the “transformational” nature of fee disclosure — let’s see. It’s an empirical question. We don’t have to guess.

Statements like: “For those engaged in the transactions business where there is no accountability or responsibility for recommendations and no obligation to act in the consumer’s best interest” are moralizing opinions and not facts.

Is the claim that significant numbers of investors choose and stay with immoral financial advisors or “brokers?” That seems highly unlikely.

Demonizing the “brokerage” industry, let’s be honest, has mainly been a sales tactic and little more. There has been no submission of data and evidence nor any attempt to collect any. Where is the evidence that brokers are bilking investors and RIAs not? Show us the data.

The professionals I know, especially in financial services, avoid statements with no data and no evidence to support the claims — even about perceived competitors.

In fact, there is some evidence that the broker model and the RIA model serve different kinds of customers and needs. Similar, perhaps, to HMO and private medical care, etc.

Ascribing immorality to those choices and professionals seems a tawdry sales tactic.

Having some hard data would be “transformational.”


Elmer Rich III said:

September 11, 2012 — 9:16 PM UTC

They should have no objection to their past professional behavior being fully available to all stakeholders, customers and the public.

If they are used as a journalist source, their past professional behavior and the specific actionable events should be standard part of background checks.

Business practices are always open for scrutiny and principled discussion — often heated.

The personal threats I have received, and others, are also relavant to professional behavior and business practices. The fact that certain individuals object to an open discussion is revealing in itself.

Are professional ethical concerns not an appropriate topic for a professional forum?


Stephen Winks said:

September 11, 2012 — 8:13 PM UTC

Please, no disparagement should be allowed here or on other sites.

The Alfreds are serving in an invaluable capacity in a free market.

We have just learned that the average brokerage advisor program generated a 4.3% return in a 15.9% market. What does that tell us about the business accumen of the industry and the enabling resources and support provided to the broker in portfolio construction?

Essentially none of the necessary enabling resources (authenticated prudent investment process, advanced technology, finctional division of labor and work flow management, conflict management) are in place that would support expert fiduciary counsel where advisors are responsible and accountable for their recommendations.

The Alfred brothers see this opportunityand are likely going to be part of the solution. I hope many. many more see the same and endeavor to find ways in which advice (fiduciary standing) is made safe,scalable, easy to execute and manage as a high margin business at the advisor level which is demonstrably in the investing public’s best interest. All at a lower cost than a packaged product that can not be client specific.



Stephen Winks said:

August 28, 2012 — 8:08 PM UTC

Elmer or Michael LaCosta as you refer to yourself on occasion,

The change occuring in the industry that addresses the responsibilities of an advisor rendering advice is profound and transformational—not a passing fad or a false sense of alarm if you are concerned about your professional standing.

The delineation of specific advisory services provided, their cost and the determination of of value added/benefit make the regulatory reform required at the plan participant level relevent to individuals in taxable accounts. Thus, the disclosure imperative in the DC market space is transformational, once that capability becomes perfunctory.

For those engaged in the transactions business where there is no accountability or responsibility for recommendations and no obligation to act in the consumer’s best interest, the virtues of a fee or retainer based advisory services practice are becomming very clear to the consumer.

Why utilize very high cost packaged products where it is not possible for the broker to add value, when an advisisor provides an unprecedented level of expert personalized investment and administrative counsel at a lower cost than a packaged product?

Make no mistake the industry is going through transformational innovation, much of which is not possible in a brokerage format whether independent b/d, regional or wirehouse.



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June 27, 2012 — 8:32 AM UTC

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will said:

June 20, 2012 — 6:42 PM UTC

Brooke, what is comical is that Michael LaCoste appears to be a pseudonym for Elmer himself. Of course this tactic allows Mr. Rich’s singularly dedicated attacks on the Alfred Brothers to continue in other forums. Your astute discernment is spot on.


Brooke Southall said:

June 14, 2012 — 6:28 PM UTC


You say it’s not personal and then turn around and cite something that sounds pretty personal.

Our concern as a publication is to have sources that can bring the best information possible under the deadline circumstances that we work. When I get emails sent to me that thoughtfully explain that a source is providing ill-informed comments, I am most concerned. But 99% of those turn out to be from someone with an ax to grind. I hear you attacking the messenger and not the quality of the message.

Vetting our sources based on what I think that I think I might possibly know about them based on what somebody thinks they know would be the slipperiest of slopes. I have to assume for the most part that if somebody is committing a crime like extortion that there are agencies of government or free market forces that will assert themselves. I don’t have the resources or divine powers to undertake that.

You are constantly leaving comments here castigating people for demonizing people and agencies but it seems like you are doing that in this instance.



Elmer Rich said:

June 14, 2012 — 2:58 PM UTC

No, there is nothing personal about our principaled and ethical objections to the BScope business model and the public comments and behavior of the Alfred brothers.

The brothers want to mis-portray challenges to their professional and business behavior and statements as such in an attempt to deflect scrutiny and hard questions. As we, see this tactic works. They conveniently ignore that one of their investors physically threatened us in an email — which we posted on our blog for transparency purposes.

For people wanting to see and extended professional discussion of the serious issues with BScope please go to this Linked In discussion post. —

Here is a recent comment: “Group: 401(k) Rekon Discussion: I have been approached by brightscope. Has anyone used their subscription service and if so what has your experience been.

In the writer’s opinion, Brightscope’s business model is extortion. Perhaps the founders were inspired by their experience as 20’s something advisor’s themselves. Ironically Co-founders Mike Alfred and Ryan Alfred are both ex-advisors with serious complaints/cases and settlements seeking $1Million on their FINRA Reports. Maybe they are just seeking revenge on the industry. Check it out yourself at or
Posted by Michael LaCoste”

Editors: The probity and ethics of commentators you regularly cite in your articles is a critical matter since your citing them, repeatedly, is a tacit endorsement and publicity service for them. Are you not concerned about the ethical questions surrounding your cited “experts?”


Brooke Southall said:

June 12, 2012 — 11:15 PM UTC

This is a close-knit community that is generally quite constructive so I have not felt the need to create some super-legal terms of use for these comments.

I’ve tried to use common sense.

Elmer, I just removed the part of your comment that comes across as a nasty attack based on personal animosity. I think Mike makes a point here and I’m going to err on the side of keeping nasty comments off the site.

Mike, I’ll remove yours because Elmer’s is no longer there to put your comment in context.



Elmer Rich III said:

June 12, 2012 — 8:21 PM UTC

Our prediction is that this will be another case of over-hyping and similar to the 2012 end of the world and Y2k — false alarm. Once again, the world will not come an end.

It has been the subject of so much digital ink, it’s bound of have be a straw man and waste of a lot of energy and time.

Predictions aside. It would have been sensible to have done some research ahead of time testing assumptions and strategies but our industry is always Ready-Fire-Aim – as the article points out. It’s actually human nature.

Look forward to getting real data on behavior — not attitudes.

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