(Dow Jones) The government wants people to know more about what they are getting for their money from financial advisors. When they know it may be as important as what they are told.
As regulators and the advising industry gear up for expected reforms, much of the attention has been on so-called point-of-sale disclosures-that is, the information a firm must provide up-front when a financial transaction is agreed upon.
Chet Helck, chief operating officer of Raymond James Financial Inc., questions whether that is the right moment to bury a client with disclosures. "It's so difficult because of the complexity of all the various things one needs to understand," he said during an interview with Dow Jones Newswires on Monday.
"What are you going to do? Hand somebody a 40-page document that they're expected to analyze and absorb at the moment they're trying to decide whether to make a transaction or not?" said Helck, who spoke at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association annual meeting on Monday. "If you just tune it out after a while, is that really effective disclosure?"
The possibility of a new federal fiduciary standard seems to top the list of regulatory concerns among retail brokerages. Greater interest in disclosure by regulators, however, could rank a close second. Requiring brokerages to enhance the disclosures they already make could mean providing investors with more information about commissions, such as the portion of mutual fund load fees that is directed back to the advisor and revenue sharing that goes back to the advisor's company. Brokerages could also, conceivably, end up disclosing performance-based pay incentives for advisors, such as details about recruitment bonus packages that promise part of the payout when an advisor brings over client assets and reaches certain production levels.
Helck says that disclosures aren't a problem, but an investor's ability to process the information under some circumstances could undermine the point. "There are ways to do it where it's all in writing, or where you provide it on a timed or regular basis. Then it's accessible to analysis," said Helck, who is also a Sifma board member.
An online guide to mutual-fund investing for Raymond James includes a section about how the firm and its advisors are compensated. The Web site explains, for example, that advisors receive a portion of the commissions investors pay to buy mutual funds. It also mentions "other forms of compensation" which include payments from companies that sponsor, manage and promote the sale of certain mutual funds by Raymond James. Those payments, according to the Web site, cover certain firm expenses, such as those for marketing mutual funds to new investors.
Recent concerns voiced by regulators, however, raise questions about whether that level of disclosure will continue to be adequate, or whether brokerages will have to provide even more details. Those could include dollar amounts they receive from outside companies for promoting certain securities or even specifics about advisors' brokerage compensation packages.
Richard Ketchum, chairman of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, recently suggested the use of Web-based disclosure systems that would include plain English-information and the option to review more specifics, such as details about conflicts of interest. Finra, Wall Street's self-policing organization, is requesting comment on a possible plan for a plain-English upfront disclosure document that explains a firm's accounts and services, its conflicts of interest and "any limitation on duties owed to the customer," according to a recent regulatory notice.
Helck isn't concerned that investors could be scared away by too much information about broker compensation. Most investors would stick with their advisors, he says, even if after knowing about a bonus that is tied to performance goals, or that an advisor gained financially by convincing the client to switch firms. "I think all but the most nascent of investors know that people have to change firms and that these things happen," he said.