With robo-advisors gaining steam, should the computer programming wizards behind them be held to a fiduciary standard?
Talk to experts and you get a firm, “sometimes.”
One professional in the “yes” camp is Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago-based securities and investment fraud attorney who sits on the board of the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association.
“If a firm outsources recommendations to a robot, it better make certain that robot is properly programmed to exclusively recommend a diversified asset allocated portfolio,” said Stoltmann.
He said—half in jest—that an army of well-trained, ethical robots could put him out of business because most of the cases he brings against advisors charge they have instituted non-diversified, non-asset-allocated buckets of investments for their clients.
Another Windy City securities law attorney, James Eccleston, who represents both investors and advisors, said if a roboadvisor is giving recommendations, a computer programmer should be held to same the standard as a broker if the techie is acting in concert with compliance and legal personnel.
“Ordinarily, a programmer is one small cog in wheel,” he said.
But that caveat goes away for Eccelston if the programmer is literally a one-person robo operation.
Financial planning blogger and Western Kentucky University finance professor Ron Rhodes noted programmers don’t have the relationship of trust and confidence that flesh-and-blood advisors do, yet they have been sued for aiding and abetting fraud.
Michael Chadwick, an advisor in Hartford, Conn., argued robo-advisors shouldn’t escape the ethical obligations he works under.