August 6, 2010
With over thirty years of investment professional experience, both as a Broker and an Investment Advisor, I believe my "hands on" experience dealing with mutual fund clients provides valuable insight into this issue. I am in support of full disclosure for all fees, and fund polices. (for example I am very unhappy with the new summary prospectus format). The 12b-1 fee has been a very important source of support for my business efforts with my clients. When handling the extra hours of real work needed to complete service tasks, repeatedly over the life of an account, including name changes, trust re- registrations, inheritance documents, divorce decrees, business terminations, RMD distribution planning, error corrections, (dividend checks lost by clients),changes to monthly investment amounts, and many other time consuming services. I have always provided these services to my clients knowing, and explaining to them ,that my compensation for the work was already covered by the trail compensation included in the 12b-1 fee. The current 12b-1 fee is clearly explained in all investment discussions. My clients have never thought them to be unreasonable. I believe it would be a positive step to add the fee amounts to the clients annual statements as well. A quarter point fee is certainly reasonable when a client is being given good advise and guidance. The 12b-1 fee could be reduced in "C" shares to fifty basis points, rather than being eliminated. If the 12b-1 fee was eliminated in all share classes that would clearly limit my incentive to provide fund maintenece services directly. My clients would then be forced to go it alone, or to pay me an even higher fee through an advisory agreement. Right now the client is getting a bargain
On the issue of negotiated commissions of mutual funds for broker dealers and clients, I am firmly opposed Each client should have the right to have identical costs to own the same product. The investment "purchase" is unlike buying a car or an appliance, in that the investor has no choice as to the "features" or "benefits" included in the purchase. every mutual fund MUST abide by the EXACT same regulatory rules, and have exactly the same systems to protect the shareholder. In essence the product is a regulated commodity, that gives every shareholder the same package. To allow individual firms to price that package differently, without allowing them to change the structure, is simply inviting confusion and abuse into the industry. Imagine three neighbors. Each with the same assets to invest into the exact same funds. Each charged vastly different amounts, simply because the firm and advisor they felt comfortable doing business with may be working for a different broker dealer. Why should one client have been charged more for the exact same product and service? Even worse, what ridiculous, useless, service will a broker dealer be forced to tack on to a purchase in order to justify the higher fee? Will we see things like access to "portfolio manager comments" being an added cost for a client? Maybe included with this months mutual fund purchase only, is the ability to add your cousin Jimmy's assets to help you meet a letter of intent? Yes, price competition would exist, but service, trust, and competence would be lost
This business is built on trust, as it should be. The last thing our industry should be doing is creating an environment that gives consumers pause. An investor should know that they are being treated fairly. Look at what an incredible mess the auto industry is in. Each person has to "negotiate" the price of every car. Have you ever heard of anyone trusting a car salesman? If the auto industry had been able to deploy a fixed margin pricing model, the consumer would never have lost confidence in the industry The purchase process for a car would be a pleasure, rather than a feared transaction, as it has become. The investment profession can not afford to loose its honor any more than it has already. Professionals need to be able to look a client in the eye, and to honestly say "this is exactly what it costs to buy this fund", not just here, but everywhere If we can not do that, than we are no different than a used car salesman, and the consumer will soon loose confidence in all involved. The auto industry made the mistake of putting price ahead of product, and the outcome has been tragic for the consumer Yes, the car may be cheaper, but wait until you need to get it repaired The real costs of doing business have to be recouped somehow, and the auto industry has made up for what it has lost in sales margins by creating a fixed price structure on services Service rates of $100.00 an hour, or more, to have your car repaired. If the SEC makes the same mistake as the auto industry, I may not be able to make any money selling a fund to a client, but I certainly will be able to charge a higher hourly raate for my advice and service. The extra cost of managing that business will be passed on to my clients. Like a car dealer, my $100.00 per hour rate will increase and my advisory billing hours will climb. The client will be paying more, and not getting a red cent more for his money in the way of advice This is simply wrong, and should not be aloud to happen. Some ideas appear to look good on paper, but in the real world they are not easily applied. Portions of this proposal fall into that category.
Please increase disclosure on statements, maintain existing 12b-1 fees on all share classes,("C" classes slightly reduced),and DO NOT allow broker dealers to create multiple, confusing, misguided, pricing plans