August 6, 2010
We seem to have developed a very persistent group of thought police in this industry who believe that there is only one right way to run a practice and only one right product per situation.
For the vast majority of us out here in the field the concept of a fiduciary standard or a suitable standard is not the concern, as we always do our best to act in the best interest of our clients. We make recommendations that put our clients interest ahead of our own economic gain.
The concern is who will judge what is "best" and where does this lead?
I may recommend any one or a combination of the following to solve a particular client concern:
1. Mutual funds.
2. Stocks, bonds, ETFs, UITs, structured products
3. A number of different types of annuities
4. A fee based wealth management solution
5. A wide variety of insurance based solutions
6. They leave everything in the bank and do nothing with me
Ten other financial advisors, planners, or brokers can look at the same client concern and come up with 10 completely different solutions from whatever recommendation I made. Which recommendation is "best"? Which is not in the best interest of the client? Who will decide this? How on Earth can "best interest" be determined with the myriad of solutions available in todays marketplace and the every increasing number of new products coming to market?
The proponents of the fiduciary standard seem to believe that a "fee only" business model is the only proper way to transact business. They also seem to be under the delusion that their practice model some how anoints all its followers with a mystical power to avoid temptation. Yet, hardly a day goes by when there isn't an article in Investment News detailing the latest transgression by a fee only advisor who is supposed to be a fiduiary. Fraud, Ponzi schemes and outright theft are reported so often it is virtually impossible to keep up with them all.
Last June, Investment News reported that a "former leader" of one of the fee only professional groups was alleged to have "wronged clients". The group imposes a fiduciary standard on all its members, yet transgressions occur within its ranks. This should be proof that no standard is going to eradicate the less than honorable members of our profession.
We have so many rules on the books already. Our office is inspected every year. Every communication with the public is monitored. Every transaction is recorded and reviewed. We have continuing education requirements to complete for our designations, our state insurance licenses and FINRA. Every year new disclosures and forms complicate the transaction of new business, increase our costs and reduce our profitability.
Will a fiduciary standard really change anything for those who disregard existing rules? Or will it simply add another regulatory and cost burden to the majority of us who already do business properly?