August 17, 2010
My firm is an SEC-registered investment advisor with assets under management approximating $125 million. We are fee-only advisors and we embrace our fiduciary duty to hold clients' interests above our own. I respectfully suggest that any financial reform measures pursued by Congress should include a fiduciary obligation on the part of anyone providing investment advice to investors/consumers. The current system in which many advisors play a dual role of advisor and sales person and conflicts of interest are buried in obscure disclaimers that nobody reads, the deck is clearly stacked against consumers. When you look at how brokerage firms and banks advertise their services, they are primarily promoting themselves as advisors, not as product sales people. The vast majority of consumers has no idea that a fiduciary standard of care is a higher standard than that of suitability, nor does it appreciate the conflicts of interest inherent in most compensation arrangements.
Further, I respectfully suggest that advisors should not be able to advertise or present themselves as "objective" or "unbiased" advisors when they have obvious conflicts of interest arising from product compensation. I witness this type of advertising daily on the radio in Milwaukee. A certain advisor that has an obvious conflict of interest due to commissions from mutual funds and sharing up to 25% of the fees from separate account managers (appropriately disclosed in his firm's ADV Part II) still touts daily that his firm provides objective, unbiased investment advice. This is clearly an inaccurate and misleading statement and, while such conflicts of interest are disclosed in the ADV II, the firm's radio ads suggest the opposite and such misleading ads receive much more prominent attention than lengthy disclosure documents that most are not likely to read.
If you are truly trying to protect the interests of small investors, many of whom may lack the capacity or the resources to protect their own interests, then I strongly encourage the SEC to adopt a fiduciary standard of care for all investment advisors and to regulate the use of words such as "objective" and "unbiased" in media advertising and other communications with clients and prospective clients.
Lastly, I respectfully suggest that the SEC is the most appropriate regulatory body for purposes of implementing a broad fiduciary standard. I do not perceive that FINRA would be as effective or objective as the SEC in regulating the activities of investment advisors.
Thank you for your time and consideration.