Fiduciary: A Comprehensive Guide

In our daily lives, we encounter situations where we entrust others with important matters. This could be a financial advisor managing our investments, a lawyer representing us in court, or even a family member caring for a loved one. In these scenarios, a special kind of relationship is formed, one built on trust and responsibility. This is the world of fiduciaries.

Table of Content

Fiduciary (Noun). A fiduciary is a person or organization entrusted with the legal and ethical responsibility to act in another's best interests, particularly regarding financial matters. [Company Logo] Eternal Insurance Agency.

Here's a quick recap of key takeaways:

  • Fiduciary duties ensure responsible and ethical conduct, putting the beneficiary's needs first.
  • Common fiduciaries include financial advisors, trustees, board members, and legal professionals.
  • Reg BI offers a higher standard of protection for retail investors by requiring broker-dealers to prioritize their clients' best interests.
  • Fiduciary duties significantly influence investment strategies, promoting long-term growth, risk management, and transparency.
  • Individuals with limited financial expertise, complex situations, or vulnerability can benefit from a fiduciary relationship.

Understanding Fiduciaries

What is a Fiduciary?

A fiduciary is someone who holds a legal and ethical relationship of trust with another person or group. They are  bound to act in the best interests of the other party, putting their needs before their own. This often involves managing money or property for the beneficiary.

Fiduciary Duties

Fiduciary duties are the legal and ethical obligations a fiduciary has towards the beneficiary. These duties ensure the fiduciary prioritizes the beneficiary's best interests in all decisions and actions. Here's a breakdown of some key fiduciary duties:

  • Duty of Care: This requires the fiduciary to act with prudence and reasonable care in managing the entrusted assets. They should be knowledgeable and informed about their responsibilities and make decisions based on sound judgment.
  • Duty of Loyalty: This prevents the fiduciary from putting their own interests or the interests of a third party before the beneficiary's. It includes avoiding conflicts of interest and not profiting personally from their position.
  • Duty of Good Faith: This requires the fiduciary to be honest and transparent in all their dealings with the beneficiary. They must disclose all relevant information and avoid misleading or misrepresenting anything.

Additional Duties: Depending on the specific fiduciary relationship, there could be other duties involved, such as:

  • Duty of Confidentiality: This may apply to situations where the fiduciary holds sensitive information about the beneficiary, which they must keep confidential.
  • Duty to Act Impartially: In situations where there are multiple beneficiaries, the fiduciary must treat them all fairly and impartially.

Consequences of Breaching Fiduciary Duty: If a fiduciary fails to uphold their duties, they can be held liable for any losses suffered by the beneficiary. This could involve legal action, financial compensation, or even removal from their position.

Tip on Recognizing a Fiduciary Relationship

Recognizing a fiduciary relationship can be tricky, but here's a helpful tip:

Look for a one-sided relationship with a power imbalance.

  • A fiduciary has significant control over something important to the other person (money, property, well-being).
  • The beneficiary (the person relying on the fiduciary) is in a vulnerable position and trusts the fiduciary to act in their best interest.

Here are some additional signs:

  • The nature of the relationship: Does it involve managing assets, making decisions on someone's behalf, or providing professional advice?
  • Formal agreements: Are there legal documents outlining the responsibilities and expectations of each party? (e.g., a trust document, a financial advisor agreement)
  • Duty of care and loyalty: Is there a clear expectation that the fiduciary will prioritize the beneficiary's needs?


  • A trustee managing a trust for a beneficiary. (Power imbalance: Trustee controls assets, beneficiary relies on them)
  • A financial advisor recommending investments for a client. (Power imbalance: Advisor has investment knowledge, client trusts their recommendations)

Remember: This tip is a starting point. If you're unsure whether a relationship is fiduciary, consulting with a legal professional is always recommended.

Examples of Fiduciary Relationships

  • Trustee and Beneficiary
  • Board Members and Shareholders (elaborate on the 3 duties: Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty, Duty of Good Faith)
  • Executor and Legatee
  • Guardian and Ward
  • Attorney and Client
  • Principal and Agent
  • Investment Fiduciary

II. Fiduciary Duties in Action

Regulation Best Interest vs. Suitability Rule

Both Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) and the Suitability Rule aim to protect investors, but they have key differences in the level of protection offered:

Suitability Rule:

  • Standard: Focuses on whether an investment is suitable for an investor's specific financial situation, including risk tolerance, investment objectives, and investment horizon.
  • Application: Applies to recommendations made by broker-dealers to all investors, including both retail and institutional.
  • Fiduciary Duty: Does not impose a fiduciary duty on broker-dealers. They need to recommend investments that are suitable, but they can still prioritize their own interests (e.g., commissions) to some extent.

Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI):

  • Standard: A higher standard, requiring recommendations to be in the investor's best interest. This means the investment must not only be suitable but also consider the overall benefit to the investor.
  • Application: Applies to recommendations made by broker-dealers to retail investors only. Institutional investors are not covered under Reg BI.
  • Fiduciary Duty: Does not explicitly create a fiduciary duty, but the "best interest" standard raises the bar considerably. Broker-dealers must prioritize the retail investor's needs and avoid putting their own interests first.

Here's an analogy:

  • Suitability Rule: Like finding clothes that fit you (size, style).
  • Reg BI: Like finding clothes that not only fit you but also flatter you, suit your occasion, and fit your budget.

In simpler terms:

  • Suitability: Meets the minimum requirement.
  • Best Interest: Goes beyond the minimum and actively seeks the best outcome for the investor.

Key takeaway:  Reg BI offers a stronger layer of protection for retail investors by requiring broker-dealers to prioritize their clients' best interests when making recommendations.

The Short-Lived Fiduciary Rule

The Fiduciary Rule was a regulation proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in 2016. Its purpose was to strengthen investor protection in retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s.

Here's a quick rundown:

  • Goal: Expand the definition of a fiduciary to include more financial professionals who offer advice on retirement accounts. This meant these advisors would be held to a higher standard, putting the client's interests before their own.
  • Outcome: The rule faced significant legal challenges and was ultimately vacated by a federal court in 2018 before ever being fully implemented.

Impact:  Although short-lived, the Fiduciary Rule sparked debate and raised awareness about the importance of investor protection in retirement planning. It also influenced the development of Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI), which offers some similar protections for retail investors.

III. Practical Considerations

  • A. Risks of Being a Fiduciary
  • B. Fiduciary Insurance (Explain its purpose)
  • C. Investment Fiduciary Guidelines (Steps: Organize, Formalize, Execute, Monitor)

Fiduciary Rules and Regulations

Three Fiduciary Duties Owed to Shareholders

The three core fiduciary duties owed to shareholders by the board of directors are:

  1. Duty of Care: This duty requires the board to act with prudence and reasonable diligence in managing the company. They must:some text
    • Stay informed: Directors should have a basic understanding of the company's business, finances, and industry.
    • Make informed decisions: Decisions should be based on a good faith review of relevant information and a consideration of potential risks and benefits.
    • Exercise good judgment: Directors shouldn't act impulsively or recklessly. They should use their best judgment to make decisions that are in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.
  2. Duty of Loyalty: This duty prevents directors from putting their own interests or the interests of a third party before the interests of the shareholders. It includes:some text
    • Avoiding conflicts of interest: Directors cannot engage in transactions where their personal interests conflict with their duties to the company. (e.g., selling their own company to the company they manage)
    • Not profiting from their position: Directors cannot misuse their position for personal gain. (e.g., using insider information for personal stock trades)
    • Acting in good faith: Directors should be transparent and disclose any potential conflicts of interest to the board.
  3. Duty of Good Faith: This duty requires directors to act with honesty and fairness towards the shareholders. It includes:some text
    • Full disclosure: Directors must disclose all material information to shareholders, particularly information that could impact the company's financial performance or future prospects.
    • Fair dealing: Directors should treat all shareholders fairly and impartially. They shouldn't favor one group of shareholders over another.
    • Avoiding misleading information: Directors should not provide false or misleading information to shareholders.

These duties work together to ensure that the board of directors acts in the best interests of the company, which ultimately benefits the shareholders who own the company.

How Fiduciary Duties Influence Investment Strategies

Fiduciary duties significantly influence investment strategies, particularly for financial advisors and fund managers, by requiring them to prioritize the client's or beneficiary's long-term financial well-being. Here's how:

Focus on Long-Term Returns: Fiduciary duties push advisors to look beyond short-term gains and focus on building a portfolio that delivers sustainable growth over the client's investment horizon. This might involve a more balanced approach with a mix of asset classes, even if it means sacrificing some potential for immediate high returns.

Risk Management: Fiduciary duties necessitate a strong emphasis on risk management. Advisors must carefully assess a client's risk tolerance and design a portfolio that aligns with their comfort level. This may involve diversification to mitigate exposure to any single risk factor.

Considering ESG Factors: With the growing focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors, fiduciary duties can influence investment strategies to incorporate these considerations. This doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing returns, but rather considering how a company's ESG practices might impact its long-term financial health and sustainability, both for the environment and society.

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest: Fiduciary duties prevent advisors from recommending investments that benefit them more than the client. This could involve avoiding commissions-based products that might not be the best fit for the client's goals or steering clear of investments with hidden fees.

Transparency and Communication:  Fiduciary duties require clear and ongoing communication with the client. Advisors must explain the rationale behind their investment recommendations, the risks involved, and any potential conflicts of interest.


  • A fiduciary advisor might recommend a lower percentage of high-risk stocks for a client nearing retirement, even if these stocks have the potential for higher returns, because the client has a lower risk tolerance.
  • An advisor might choose an index fund with lower fees instead of a actively managed fund with higher fees, even if the actively managed fund has a history of slightly higher returns, because the index fund aligns better with the client's long-term goals and risk tolerance.

Overall, fiduciary duties ensure that investment strategies are client-centric, prioritizing the client's financial well-being over any other factor. This leads to a more disciplined and responsible approach to investing with a focus on long-term value creation.

Why Fiduciaries Matter

Why Does Someone Need a Fiduciary?

There are several reasons why someone might need a fiduciary. Here are some key situations:

  • Lack of Financial Expertise:  If someone lacks the knowledge or experience to manage their own finances or investments effectively, a fiduciary advisor can provide guidance and make sound decisions based on their best interests.
  • Vulnerability or Incapacity:  For individuals who are minors, elderly, disabled, or otherwise unable to manage their own affairs, a fiduciary can act as a guardian or trustee, ensuring their well-being and protecting their assets.
  • Complex Financial Situations:  Those with significant wealth, intricate investment portfolios, or complicated estates may benefit from a fiduciary's expertise in navigating tax implications, legal matters, and wealth preservation strategies.
  • Conflict of Interest:  In situations where there's a potential conflict of interest, such as managing a family trust or inheritance, a neutral fiduciary can ensure fair and impartial decisions are made for all beneficiaries.
  • Peace of Mind:  Having a trusted professional manage finances or assets can provide peace of mind, knowing that someone is looking out for your best interests and making responsible decisions.

Here's a breakdown of some specific examples:

  • A young adult receives a large inheritance and needs help managing it for the long term. A fiduciary advisor can create a personalized investment plan aligned with their goals.
  • An elderly couple needs assistance managing their finances as they approach retirement. A fiduciary can help them make informed decisions about their income, investments, and long-term care options.
  • A parent establishes a trust for their minor children. A fiduciary trustee manages the trust assets until the children reach adulthood, ensuring their financial security.

Overall, a fiduciary relationship provides a layer of protection, guidance, and expertise, particularly for those who are vulnerable, lack financial knowledge, or have complex financial situations.


The bottom line is that fiduciaries play a crucial role in safeguarding the well-being of others. They act as trusted stewards,  bound by duty to prioritize the best interests of the beneficiary in all their actions. This can involve managing finances, making decisions, or providing professional advice.

Fiduciary FAQs

How do fiduciaries get paid?

Fiduciaries get paid in a few ways, depending on the situation. Financial advisors often charge fees based on your assets or an hourly rate. They might also earn commissions for selling certain products, but rules are moving towards fees to avoid conflicts of interest. In some cases, like company executives, fiduciaries might get a salary.

Another word for fiduciary?

Fiduciary doesn't have a single perfect replacement, but some options depending on the context include: Trustee (manages assets in a trust), Guardian (court-appointed caretaker for someone's person or property), Custodian (holds assets for someone else) or Steward (manages something for another's benefit).