August 23, 2004
Each Commissioner should first read all of Merrill Lynch's "Unlimited Advantage" print advertising, listen to its radio spots, and watch its TV commercials prior to voting on this misinformed rule. For example, "MERRILL LYNCH and UNLIMITED ADVANTAGE" in the February 21, 2001 Wall Street Journal, page A17, touts, "You. Your Financial Consultant. And a host of financial services. . . . So you can consult. . ." A SIMPLE FEE. A SIMPLER LIFE.
No commissions on most transactions is a minor part of the "host" of services," 21 bullet point advantages offered for "a simple fee." The most prominent "advantage" is the ability to "CONSULT" where "a personal Financial Consultant (note, not an order taker, a financial consultant) helps you to, among other advantages, "identify specific investment strategies customized to your needs" and "tailor asset allocation to your risk tolerance".
The fact that they specifically say "investment strategies" instead of "individual investments" does not change the meaning to 99.99% of all customers. They are buying Merrill Lynch's investment advice for a simple fee. If they were only buying order execution, they could buy that far cheaper than the fees charged. Merrill Lynch and the other brokerage firms are selling "consulting services" which is investment advice by another name.
To allow Merrill and the other big Wall Street firms to play semantic games in order to reduce their standard of care in providing investment advice is a disservice to pubic investors. The recent analyst scandals as well as Wall Street's well documented participation in the fraudulent conduct of Enron and other corporate clients, should be sufficient to convince the Commission that their industry needs higher standards, not lower. Here, the industry seeks to exempt itself from the common standards applicable to others giving investment advice.
It is a very bad idea and Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, et al. should be required to comply with the same rules as other investment advisors.
Barry D. Estell
6140 Hodges Drive
Mission, KS 66205