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Rubio opened up on small investors and retirement issues -- and cracked wise about the Russians
April 17, 2017 — 6:38 PM UTC by By Lisa Shidler
Brooke's Note: When friends outside the RIA business ask me what on Earth I write about that interests financial advisors, I'll often mention the DOL rule. Of course, they have no idea what I'm talking about. I frame it as the first real effort by the federal government to make it illegal for advisors to put their interests ahead of clients. People's universal reaction is to be amazed that Washington is still messing around with such a basic tenet in 2017. I assume people are in the dark about the fact that that stockbrokers have a license to neglect because it just doesn't get raised in conversation. That conspicuous silence about fiduciary care can at least in part be laid at the feet of financial advisors and the rest of us in this business. We are weak proselytizers. So big kudos to Joel Bruckenstein for bringing up the DOL rule topic in those delicate few moments of Marco Rubio attention span the heavens granted him on an otherwise prosaic intra-state JetBlue flight.
Last Tuesday afternoon, fintech maven Joel Bruckenstein settled into a JetBlue window seat.
Having spent the day delivering a webinar for Black Diamond, and wishing only for peace and solitude on the short hop home from Jacksonville, Fla. to Ft. Lauderdale, he silently offered up the universal business traveler's prayer: Let the seat next to me stay empty.
It was not to be. Just a few minutes before the plane door closed, a passenger claimed the aisle seat next to Bruckenstein.
But when the plane gods fill a seat, they sometimes open a window of opportunity.
"I was reading and doing something else and not really paying attention," says Bruckenstein. "All of a sudden, I turn and think to myself this guy looks a lot like [U.S. Sen.] Marco Rubio. I've never seen him in person. I've only seen him on TV. We started talking for a minute or two -- about I don't know what -- and I turned around and said, you look very familiar to me and he said, 'I'm Marco Rubio.'" See: Why RIAs (Republicans, too) need to snap out of willful ignorance about climate change to claim the mantle of wealth stewardship.
'One for the Russians'
There was no way Bruckenstein, who heads up the T3 conferences, was going to let this serendipitous encounter pass without giving his home-state senator his take on the DOL rule. The Republican junior senator, 45, sits on the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship committee, as well as the powerful Committee on Appropriations. Rubio's parents are Cuban immigrants and he is famous for being raised in a middle class background with no silver spoon in sight. See: Jaws drop after Dale Brown Skypes keynote address to Laser App conference with the claim: 'We were fiduciary believers long before being a fiduciary was cool'.
But Bruckenstein eased into it with small talk centering on -- no surprise given Bruckenstein's background -- technology. He noticed Rubio had two iPads and two phones and asked why.
"He was typing out some emails and he told me that one of the iPads was for his personal life and one is for the Russians, which I thought was very funny," Bruckenstein says. See: Advisor Tested: Top iPad apps for RIAs.
Enough with the pleasantries.
"I asked him what he thinks of the DOL rule."
But pinning down Rubio on the particulars of the rule or his opinion of it proved challenging. Bruckenstein got the impression the senator considered it something of a non-issue due it its many delays. See: After putting big chips on DOL fiduciary rule, Betterment hosts funereal event to mark the April 10 Go Day That Wasn't.
"I forget exactly what he said, but what I took away was that he didn't think it was going to survive," recalls Bruckenstein.
On the larger topic of retirement, however, the senator was more forthcoming.
"He's well aware from his own elderly parents that have issues," says Bruckenstein. "He was trying to give me the message that he's aware there are issues with retirees and it is something that concerns him."
Undeterred, Bruckenstein gave his best pitch for the DOL fiduciary rule.
"I tried to explain to him that the DOL rule is very important because it asks advisors to act as fiduciaries and in the best interest of clients. A lot of folks are paying lip service," he says.
"I didn't expect to change his mind about anything and he didn't expect to change my mind. I wanted to give him something to think about that he had never thought of before and maybe he'll remember the conversation on the plane." See: Who's afraid of Virginia Foxx and friends? Maybe pro-DOL forces should be but no panic yet.
It was a brief conversation, Bruckenstein acknowledges. "We talked just a few minutes and then he did his thing and I did my thing. I thought it was an opportunity to raise his awareness. I wanted to let him know what it was important. It took all of five minutes because I wasn't going to be badgering the guy the whole flight."
He adds: "I don't know what he thinks and he didn't say what he thinks. Maybe it was a moot point because it has been delayed. The impression he may have is that the delay may be permanent but that's me reading the tea leaves." See: 'Poof, it's gone!' DOL quietly strips two heavy lifts from the fiduciary rule as it makes delay official.
Still, Bruckenstein had a better chance of changing Rubio's thinking on a JetBlue flight over his home state of Florida than in the stuffy corridors of Washington, D.C., according to Knut Rostad of the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard.
“It’s so much better to get senators in their home district. The elevator speech you’d give when you happen to be walking down the stairway in Congress isn't the same as when you’ve got literally five minutes and you’ve got a way to crack open the human being inside the politician. That’s different.” See: How Trump's backtrack on DOL rule burned his most ardent anti-rule supporters and the opening Elizabeth Warren is exploiting.
'Normal business guy'
Bruckenstein expressed surprise that Rubio was even on a JetBlue flight. The airline has no first class section -- he and Rubio occupied extra legroom seats for which you pay a bit more. The senator explained that during the congressional break he meets with constituents. He'd just had a meeting in Jacksonville concerning a low-income housing project that was having problems.
Rubio's management of his own personal finances came under scrutiny during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. During the debates, Rubio was quizzed about mingling campaign and personal monies, about facing foreclosure on a second home and about liquidating a $68,000 retirement fund.
"We talked a little bit about big firms," Bruckenstein says. "He did indicate to me that he knew there were issues with small investors and investors getting hurt by big Wall Street firms and it was an issue he felt passionate about. I don't know the guy from Adam, but he's very likeable and very charming. He was a very normal business guy on a plane."
'Oh, to have that opportunity'
We contacted Skip Schweiss for this article on the theory that, as head of advocacy and industry affairs for TD Ameritrade Institutional, he spends a good deal of his time making sure that RIA-relevant issues are top of mind with D.C. lawmakers. See: RIAs flood Capitol Hill with protests against a SRO-FINRA future on the day of the Bachus Bill hearing.
But Schweiss demurred, saying this was Bruckenstein's story to tell.
But when RIABiz retweeted Bruckenstein's photo, Schweiss was apparently unable to resist, posting, "Oh, to have that opportunity..." See: Skip Schweiss awakens FPA NorCal crowd with must-do DOL laundry list that starts with IRA billing and the need for chief laundering officers.
Bruckenstein isn't a lobbyist and concedes that someone like Schweiss probably would have had a better-planned thoughts. But he was impressed with Rubio.
"It was very relaxed. We're just two people sitting on a plane waiting to go home," he says. "He handled himself very professionally and he's very charming. A lot of others would have said, 'I don't have time to discuss this because I have to answer emails.' He was happy to chat for a few minutes."
Bruckenstein declined to say whether he voted for Rubio. "If you can't have a discussion with someone you don't agree with politically then what's the point" We'll never get anywhere."
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