August 10, 2010
Any legislation crafted in my opinion should accommodate those millions of Americans who badly need competent financial planning, yet are unwilling or unable to pay an ongoing yearly fee. The difficulty of building a successful business in financial planning requires many advisors to either charge an ongoing fee or to chase only wealthier investors with assets. Who is there to help younger investors with smaller accounts and nurture them over the long term? That is where wealth is accumulated for most. With fewer having access to pensions, it will be more important in the future. My CFP designation notwithstanding, I would oppose rules making it even more difficult for smaller investors to afford assistance, since compliance regulations are already burdensome and time-consuming (hence expensive). In addition, has the "fiduciary" obligation been adequately defined? How can anyone honestly know which is the "best" recommendation for a client? Reasonable people disagree. Why not define specifically and objectively what a fiduciary standard is, then take a sampling of past Advisor-based recommendations to determine if they meet the legal test? Only then could the practicality of applying this standard industry-wide be determined. I fear one of 2 things will happen if it is--either the fiduciary standard will be degraded, or many lawsuits could entail as a result of client disappointment and a fuzzy standard which defies objective definition.