September 7, 2004
It is a consumers responsibility to decide who they can trust in the marketplace at large, and I would argue that mission becomes more difficult when brokerage representatives are allowed to masquerade as fiduciaries, to advertise the quality of their investment advice, but not be held to the standards of investment advisors or fiduciaries by the appropriate regulatory bodies.
In fact, I believe it is time the SEC took a stand against the constant efforts, by the brokerage firms, to recast their brokers as counselors, and financial consultants, and, well, anything but representatives of a firm that makes its money by selling the house product or getting investors to buy their IPO shares. For many years, the brokerage firms have been deliberately, cynically blurring this line, creating the illusion that you can trust them as much as the fee-compensated advisor down the street. The recent headlines, showing how enthusiastically these same firms were enjoying their conflicts of interest until caught, strongly suggest that this is not true.
So, to the commissioners of the SEC I say: Protect the consumer from salespeople masquerading as advisors. Resind your rule exempting them from the same fiduciary rules the rest of the advising profession must labor under. Create a level playing field. Restore some faith in the power of regulators to regulate. Give the consumer a break.