Protecting Your Savings

A person investing for retirement could hold on to tens of thousands of dollars more thanks to a new rule from the Department of Labor. It requires all financial advisers who provide investment guidance on retirement accounts to act in their clients’ best interest.

You might think that was always the case—but remarkably, that’s not true. Some types of advisers, called fiduciaries, do indeed have to put a client’s financial interests above their own. The products that certified financial planners, registered investment advisers, and certain other professionals can recommend must be not only a good fit for clients but also cost-effective among comparable choices.

But other advisers—such as stockbrokers who work on commission—have merely been required to recommend “suitable” investments. That means they could suggest options that suit a client’s needs and goals but may have high commissions or fees.

The Department of Labor says that when advisers pick those types of investment products for their clients, they reduce their clients’ returns (and pad their own pockets) by an average of 1 percent per year. That might not sound like much, but it adds up to about $17 billion annually.

Under the new rule, which fully goes into effect by January 2018, all financial advisers, whether fee-only or commission-based, will have to adhere to the same “fiduciary rule.” Those who don’t can be held accountable through breach-of-contact lawsuits and other safeguards.

Consumer Reports has been working behind the scenes to help make this rule a reality. During meetings with key stakeholders at the Department of Labor, in Congress, and at the White House, we’ve urged officials to resist industry pressure to weaken the new standard. We believe these changes are long overdue and will help remove a conflict of interest that has until now potentially jeopardized financially secure retirements.

Serving the Nation

The commerce department has appointed Consumer Reports’ president and CEO, Marta L. Tellado, to serve on its first advisory board on the digital economy. The board will advise the department on its new Digital Economy Agenda, which will cover such issues as promoting a free and open Internet, trust online, and technology innovation.

Tellado is the only consumer representative on the board, joining executives from AT&T, Microsoft, YouTube, and others. In the announcement, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said: “I am thrilled that such a knowledgeable and diverse group of thought leaders has volunteered to serve. As we develop an agenda to help the digital economy grow and thrive, it is critical that we engage with those on the front lines of the digital revolution.”

Safeguarding America’s Food Supply

Consumer Reports has long been concerned about arsenic in the U.S. food supply. That heavy metal is a potent carcinogen and a danger to developing fetuses, and it can set children up for health problems in adulthood.

We first noted variable but concerning levels of inorganic arsenic in 2012, in a report about apple and grape juice. Later we shared our findings about arsenic in rice and rice products such as infant cereal.

After repeatedly calling on the Food and Drug Administration to act, it responded in 2013 by setting a threshold for juice. That’s a good step, but it’s not protective enough. In guidelines for manufacturers that were released in April, the FDA is now proposing capping the amount of inorganic arsenic allowed in infant rice cereal.

“We’re pleased that the FDA has taken this step, but we remain concerned that so many other rice-based products remain without any standards at all,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of our Food Safety and Sustainability Center. The FDA should act swiftly to set levels for rice as well as rice beverages and cereals.

In the meantime, vary your diet and eat grains lower in arsenic, such as barley, farro, and millet. As for babies, they should eat no more than one serving of infant rice cereal per day, on average, and consume cereals made from other grains. To learn more, go to Consumer Reports' Food Safety & Sustainability Center.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the July 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.