January 31, 2005
The crux of the problem is that consumers equate broker with investment advisor. I have yet to meet a single consumer who was even aware that certain investment professionals have a fiduciary duty to their clients and others did not.
Most understand that commission based compensation is not often in their best interest because it might lead to churning, and therefore prefer asset based fees.
While I would love for all financial professionals to have a fiduciary duty towards their clients, I realize this is unrealistic in the short term. Because asset based fee accounts are often better than commission based accounts for consumers, I wouldnt want to eliminate them by fiat.
However, to help consumers understand the differences between a broker and an investment advisor I would recommend the following actions to prevent companies from attempting to muddy the waters.
1. SEC should dictate the titles brokers and investment advisors must use. By standardizing on two titles one for brokers and one for investment advisors it will be much easier for consumers to learn which type of financial professional they are dealing with.
2. If advice is truly incidental, then brokers advertising should not be allowed to market their services based on their strength as an advisor and the advice they give. Allowing otherwise, means brokers can muddy the waters with their advertising dollars to confuse consumers about the difference between a broker and an advisor. This muddying of the waters can be seen by looking at any current brokers web site and see how much they emphasize the advice they give to the exclusion of their other services. In other words, the face they present to the public is that they provide advice and transaction services are incidental to the advice.