PITTSBURGH -- When Blaine Aikin started teaching 401(k) plan providers, investment managers and others the importance of putting their clients' interests first, the only ones who wanted to listen were those who already believed it was the right thing to do.
"In a lot of ways, we were speaking to the choir," recalled Aikin, 62, executive chairman of fi360, a fast-growing Pittsburgh-area business that teaches investment professionals how to act as fiduciaries.
Now that the U.S. Department of Labor is in the process of implementing sweeping rules meant to impose fiduciary obligations on more industry personnel, fi360's products and services are appealing to a larger audience.
Aikin declined to reveal the private company's revenue but said it has been growing at a double-digit clip for more than five years.
"Certainly, the regulation is the catalyst, but there is a larger trend," he said. "It's the feeling that it's the way things were supposed to be."
Being a fiduciary means a lot of things. It basically requires advisers to put their clients' interests ahead of their own.
That means not selling them an inappropriate investment just because it pays the adviser a fatter commission than a more appropriate investment would. It requires advisers to investigate which of the myriad index funds based on the S&P 500 offers an investor the best performance at the lowest cost and to disclose potential conflicts of interest that could taint their investment advice.
The company started in 1999 as Fiduciary 360 to indicate that it provides a full range of services to fiduciaries, Aikin said. Marketing materials used the catch phrase "Fiduciary Insights 360," which was later shortened to fi360 and adopted as the company name, he said.
To help investment professionals identify their fiduciary obligations and fulfill them, fi360 offers educational programs that provide professional certifications as an accredited investment fiduciary. There is also training to become an accredited investment fiduciary analyst, someone who can do an audit of an investment management firm and analyze whether its policies and procedures meet fiduciary standards.
Fi360 also offers a service that continually rates the performance of mutual funds used in 401(k) plans, helping the plans and their advisers identify poor performers and better funds that could replace them.