August 24, 2010
I believe that financial regulation is important. I believe that we have veered far off course and are continuing to head in the wrong direction. Specifically I don't believe holding every advisor to a fiduciary standard is realistic, enforceable, or affordable. I don't believe it is realistic that you can ask people who work on a commission basis to diregard what commission they make on a product and act soley in the clients best interest. I believe I do act in the best interest of my clients when providing advice. However, I don't believe it is realistic to ask everyone to do so otherwise only a few products that exist today could be sold, that are generally considered to be the "best". This would tear competition and the market apart. I think we have to focus on educating investors to help drive them towards the best choice.
It's not enforceable fairly as it would be very unfair to look back in time and say someone shouldn't have sold you that product when you know exactly what happened over that time period. The product was sold without that knowledge. They only had information based on that then current situation. The clients job, marital status, health,etc.. could have changed. The product could have changed. There are too many variables and it is not fair to look back and say based on the way things played out this was a bad recommendation. I believe the suitability standard is muuch more realistic and enforceable.
I don't believe a fiduciary standard is affordable. Compliance is already extrememly expensive. We spend 20% or more of our time just on compliance issues. Creating paper trails, operating in certain ways, tracking activities, completeing internal audits, etc... We do everything right. We spend excessive time on compliance and the reality is we do everything right. The people who are out there ripping people off are spending zero time on compliance, because they are ripping people off You can make all the rules in the world, but the same people are not going to follow them. Instead the rest of us do follow them it increase our costs and you put more good advisors out of business. Also my guess is that because of the cost of compliance you drive more people to sell higher commission products which are not in the best interest of the clients. All of these expenses have to be passed on eventually to the client so they end up paying more expenses which should be a focus of the SEC if any. So what was meant to help the average investor hurts all investors.
I believe the problem is not in the suitability standard, which I believe is adequate. I believe it lies in uneducated advisors and consumers being dupped by cleverly designed marketing programs and products. We need to educate advisors, educate consmers, lower the cost of investing and cost of compliance. We need to go back to basics. I believe every investment should have a one pager that lays the cost of the investment and the track record of the investment out. Products like Variable Annuities with 1,000 page prospectuses should be done away with. If they can't boil it down to a 5 page document then it should be considered some kind of alternative investment and it should require an advanced degree to sell it.
On another note the series exams should be built to educate advisors on what is appropriate for different investors, which is only about 5% of the tests. Instead the tests focus on obscure regulations and things that don't protect consumers in the least. These are the tests you must pass to sell different investments yet they teach you nothing to very little about what is appropriate.
Thank you for your consideration.