August 16, 2010
As I begin, first let me state that I strongly believe in competent and objective advice for all consumers of financial services products. I currently hold the CLU, ChFC, and CASL designations. All of these credentials were pursued and are being maintained so that I can provide competent service to my clients.
I also held the CFP® designation. However, I was recently required to surrender that designation by my investment advisor firm because of this issue concerning fiduciary standard. It is my hope that the current discussion regarding standards will enable me to hold that designation again in good faith.
I would like to encourage the SEC to propose a standard that protects the best interest of the client without requiring a fiduciary standard on all transactions.
My reasoning is this: My main business is to help my clients with the risk management aspect of their financial plan. I can serve them well, without charging any additional fees, by recommending products that are suitable for their situation. I can advise and recommend appropriate levels of coverage and offer them a suitable product that meets their needs. If they chose my product, I am paid by my company. This commission relationship is clearly disclosed so that all parties understand what my interest is in the transaction.
This arrangement best serves my clients which are usually classified as Middle America. I realize that all may not agree on what the definition of Middle America is. To me, these are folks that are generally underserved by the strongest advocates of the fiduciary standard. That is because to make the strict fiduciary standard work for agents and advisors, fees need to be charged. Fees need to be charged because the fiduciary is always in the business of selling advice-not selling a product. Wealthy clients can afford fees Middle America either cannot afford or will not pay fees for advice. They will try to do it on their own. When folks try to handle complicated matters on their own, the results can be disappointing.
One of the key arguments for the fiduciary standard seems to be that a commissioned based advisor cannot serve the client well. That is untrue-it is always to my advantage to serve the client ethically and well. The only way that my practice will survive and grow is to have happy clients that stay with me and tell others. They do not stay and they do not tell others unless they are serve ethically and well. The supposed conflict of interest created by the incentive to earn a commission, is completely overshadowed by the greater interest to serve my clients so that they stay with me for the long run and tell others about me.
In short-I can offer competent and objective advice to my client even if my primary form of compensation is commission. I have my clients best interest and my best interest in mind, at the same time, without conflict.
Therefore, I would urge the study committee to adopt a standard of care that not only protects the consumers, but keeps financial advice affordable for all consumers.