August 24, 2010
I would like to express my opposition to the fiduciary standard being debated. I have been in business almost 14 years as a registered rep. During that time I have worked with several hundred people using the current suitability standard. This standard has functioned well in that my clients have always felt we have come to good conclusions together to determine what was suitable for them based on what was appropriate for their needs at the time. I have not had a complaint filed during the time I have been licensed. I have never had a client comment that "they were not having to sign enough paperwork and thought that there should be even more fine print". I am not saying that I have never had a client who wasn't dissapointed that their investment account lost money, but I suppose with the benefit of perfect hindsight we would all be a lot wealthier today. I have spoken with many reps like myself that have had similar experiences. Most of my clients are "middle class" type investors. Most of them would not be willing to go to an all fee based approach that the new standard would likely force me to move to. I am audited on a regular basis by my broker dealer as well as my in house compliance officer. While I certainly understand the need for this, it already takes up an extraordinary amount of time and effort to comply with these requirements. Additional regulation and costs would greatly affect the services that I would be able to give to both existing and future clients (if there would even be future clients). I feel that the vast majority of the industry is given a black eye by a few bad apples. Many of the bad apples (including most of the well known names in the media) are already held to the current fiduciary standard. I haven't seen where this standard did anything more to protect their clients. It seems that the suitability standard attempts to makes sure that an investment is suitable for a clients needs given what is known at the time. A fiduciary standard will largely be enforced through hindsight and lawsuits. I can understand that there are groups that would benefit from this (trial lawyers for example), and can certainly understand their support of the fiduciary standard and how it would benefit their business. I can also understand the support within the securities industry from those who service a higher end clientelle with a fee only model. This would greatly weed out their competition. I can also understand the talking heads in the media supporting this as they would not be held to the fiduciary standard anyway (as they are not putting their license on the line when they discuss things financial) and would remain free to throw out general uncustomized advice on the whims of the news of the day with only ratings and advertising revenue from their sponsers to consider. Whether or not a fee only model is in the best interest of a client is a debate that should also be held. I believe that a client should remain free to choose what model works best for their situation. But I do not believe this forced fiduciary standard would be a good move for your average every day investor. This would be a giant step towards pricing the middle class out of getting good customized advice. My solution (if one is needed) would be raising minimum educational and credential requirements for registered reps.