The fumbling attempts to overhaul bank regulation have captured headlines, but a less-publicized legislative effort could have a big impact on banks' brokerage operations.

The legislation revolves around what's known as a fiduciary standard, which, in a nutshell, means putting clients' interests first and foremost. Concerned that too many investors are being steered into pricey products when less expensive options are available, lawmakers have proposed that brokers be required to adhere to the same strict standards as investment advisers when selling insurance, annuities, mutual funds and other investments.

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