August 24, 2010
The SEC should maintain the suitability standard for broker-dealers and their registered representatives, rather than replacing it with a fiduciary standard. With the supervision of their broker-dealer, under the suitability standard, registered representatives must make a determination that, at the time of purchase, a product is appropriate for the client, based on the client's situation at that time. The determination is then subject to review by a principal of the broker-dealer before the product is purchased.
In contrast, the fiduciary standard simply obligates the registered representative to act in the "best interests of the customer without regard to the financial or other interest of the broker, dealer, or investment adviser providing the advice." This is a very subjective standard that allows the benefit of hindsight in determining what is "best", based on what happens after advice is rendered or a purchase made.
If Bernard Madoff, Alan Stanford, or other Ponzi scheme operators had been subject to a suitability standard with its review requirements, it is questionable whether their schemes would have lasted as long as they did or been so successful.
The mere receipt of a commission from a product provider does not mean a registered representative is not selling a suitable product or not acting in the customer's best interests. Most registered representatives want to establish and maintain a relationship with the customer. Simply because the commission on one product is more than the commission on other products does not mean it is not suitable or in the best interests of the customer. The product features and benefits must be compared as well.
In addition to product features and benefits, other intangible factors must be considered. How do the companies' customer service compare? Does the registered representative have a relationship with the product provider that helps them provide a better product or better service to the customer? For life insurance policies, does one company offer better rates or underwriting concessions?
Duly-licensed registered representatives selling life insurance company products are agents of the companies they represent. This imposes a fiduciary relationship between the agent and the company. The suitability standard does not conflict with this relationship. Creating a fiduciary standard would.
I urge the commission not to impose a fiduciary standard on broker dealers and their registered representatives.
These views are my own and may not represent the views of my employer or Transamerica Financial Advisors, Inc., my broker-dealer.
Thank you for your consideration.
Bruce A. Tannahill