July 20, 2007
I am a moderately sophisticated individual investor, former broker, and also serve as a fiduciary on my company's 401k plan. I encourage the SEC to consider any means available to reduce costs to individual investors, particularly reducing or eliminating 12b-1 charges.
My first complaint with 12b-1 charges is that for many investors, they are relatively hidden. Their primary purpose as a marketing tool is to allow salespeople to overcome the initial resistance to higher front-end loads. In the long run, 12b-1 fees can take more from investors than conventional loads, and of course, commensurately fatten the pocketbooks of salespeople.
Secondly, I note the exceptional increase in the amount of assets in mutual funds over the past decade or two and further note the financial performance of most publicly traded financial service companies. It appears there is plenty of money to support marketing of funds without 12b-1 fees.
Our companys 401k plan uses a variable annuity provided by Principal Financial. Within the shell of this program can be held outside, non-principal funds. I note that whenever our agent discusses adding outside funds, they are invariably 12b-1 funds. During the early years of our 401k and prior to my involvement (98-99), the agent talked our committee into adding several high-tech, high-risk, 12b-1 funds. These were the only funds added. Needless to say, I have little respect for the financial advice of this agent. I rather feel he deserves to have paid many of the losses our employees suffered in subsequent years with these funds. Even Principal Financial signed off on the addition of these funds (several funds, none of which provided any diversification.)
In general, the multiplication of fund classes makes me suspicious. As much as providing investor options, I suspect there are many more inappropriate uses among fund classes than have yet been prosecuted.
I further note that other fees, hidden within the management fees are used to reimburse for marketing. At least so I am told by ETrade, who claims to rebate 50% of these fees. I was told, for example, that even one of my favorite no-load funds, the T. Rowe Price New Era Fund, had a very small fee, 50% of which would be rebated to me.
Finally, I would like to point out that evidence shows that most unsophisticated, long-term investors would be better served with very low cost index funds. According to statistics, very, very few actively managed funds have beaten indexes over the long term. It would seem that arguing about the value of financial advice (and need for 12b-1 charges) would largely be negated by this fact.