August 31, 2010
Subject: File Number 4-606
From: John Twele, CFA
Affiliation: President and Chief Executive Officer, Twele Capital Management, Inc.
Throughout my 26-year career in investment management, I have always been held to the fiduciary standard of client care. The legal and ethical considerations of a fiduciary were firmly established in my mind early in my career, initially through my interaction with professors and mentors, and more formally, through the CFA ethics curriculum.
It was not until we started our own RIA seven years ago that we realized just how little of the information and advice available to individuals is subject the fiduciary standard. The SECs adoption of the Merrill Lynch Rule in 2005, which, for a period of time, allowed brokers to act as fee-based advisors under certain circumstances, obfuscated the role of a trusted advisor. The terms "counselor", "planner", "broker" and "advisor" are now synonymous in the minds of most individuals.
In our discussions with clients and prospective clients, we have consistently observed a common reality: they trust all of us, irrespective of our title, to act on their behalf and to place their interests ahead of our own.
1. None of our individual clients knew that there were two standards of care.
2. Although all of our clients have heard our fiduciary speech, few really wanted to know the details. Either they assume, as an RIA, we must act in their best interest, or they interpret our comments to required disclosure.
3. There seems to be a common response when we explain the differences between the suitability standard and the fiduciary standard – disbelief. There is a very strong perception that someone is watching, or regulating professional conduct and that the existence of two such disparate standards is implausible.
Since we started our company, we have counseled several very hard working brokers on how to set up their own RIA. The massive flight of brokers from large firms is understandable. The brokers we have worked with explicitly state that they feel they can no longer represent their client's best interest as brokers. In our experience, a key reason that professionals are leaving brokerages and setting up their own firms is that they want to be fiduciaries - they know it is best for their clients.
The SEC has an opportunity right now to move all of us who deal with individual clients to one standard. There will be strong voices in opposition, since many accepted practices under the suitability standard just wont fly under the fiduciary standard. Which is precisely why we need this change.