As we close the books on 2012 and begin to look forward to 2013, a number of significant issues are looming that will shape financial planners, their practices, and the profession in the year to come. Perhaps the most apparent issue is the one that generated the most intensity in 2012, yet without a resolution: the ongoing debates regarding the implementation of a uniform fiduciary standard for financial advisors, and which regulator will be responsible for increasing the oversight of investment advisers. This issues will become hot topics again in 2013, as the SEC has committed to moving both issues towards a resolution, and the Department of Labor is also anticipated to (re-)release its own new fiduciary rules for 2013. This will be an intense year for financial advisor regulation.
Beyond what's on the regulatory horizon, though, two other significant issues loom for 2013. The first is a wave of change in the software and technology that advisors use, as tablets are rapidly becoming so mainstream that already the majority of advisors are using one... and soon the majority of all Americans will be, too. The bad news is that means a great deal of pressure is coming for advisors to improve their software, systems, and practices to accommodate the use of tablet computers. The good news is that this in turn may lead not only to dramatic improvements in the efficiency of the office and the experience for clients, but also that a wider base of tablet users attracts more software developers and providers to innovate and create even more new solutions and improvements.
The final issue for 2013 - what will likely turn out to be both the biggest, yet is the one we are least anticipating and for which we are the least prepared - is the establishment later this year of health insurance exchanges and the need for clients to choose what health insurance they will purchase for 2014, or pay a penalty. The sheer numbers involved are daunting and almost overwhelming, as there are nearly 50 million uninsured Americans who must by the end of the year go through a process to purchase health insurance - and must do so from a series of state insurance exchanges that don't even exist yet! The issue will not be constrained to only the uninsured, either, as many employers are likely to cease offering coverage for employees and instead simply pay them a little more and let them obtain their own guaranteed coverage directly. In the long run, this dissociation of health insurance from employment is arguably a positive step for clients; nonetheless, in the nearer term, I suspect we will find that when the books are closed on 2013 a year from now, we'll be stunned by the volume of work that will have been done guiding clients through this health insurance transition period.