Broker-dealers are figuring they can get a weaker fiduciary standard from the Securities and Exchange Commission than the Department of Labor, Consumer Federation of America Director of Investor Protection Barbara Roper said Tuesday.

Roper said while the specific areas of SEC and DOL rule development of fiduciary standards are different -- the SEC is looking at imposing an investment advisor-like standard on all brokers while the DOL is seeking to update its standard of care guidelines for IRAs and defined contribution plans -- these new rules could add needed protections for retail investors from brokers.

Roper, a member of the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee, said brokers are confident they can get more fiduciary exemptions from the securities regulator than the Department of Labor which has traditionally taken a “no conflicts” rule toward investment advice and actions.

The absence of a fiduciary obligation can undermine the ability of Americans to have decent retirements by increasing the chances their savings will be eaten up by higher costs and riskier investments, Roper implored.

In making another argument for the fiduciary standard for brokers, she said, “Advice that isn’t in the best interest of individuals isn’t advice. It’s a sales pitch.”

The Consumer Federation’s retail investor leader said a standard for brokers would not be an additional burden on the SEC’s tight resources than the staff needed to currently enforce the suitability standard.

Speaking at a fiduciary briefing that included representatives from AARP, the AFL-CIO and Americans for Financial Reform, Roper said anything less than a fiduciary standard equal in toughness to the obligations required of investment advisors would be unacceptable for consumer proponents.

“(We don’t want) a horribly watered downed standard that carves out everything,” she said.

Another rule that could help investors, said Roper, would be standards on pre-engagement letters from brokers to prospective clients.

But, even though those standards were mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act nearly four years ago, she said the SEC has yet to issue a proposal.

She said the levels of care expected from different financial services providers can be confusing for professionals such as her with 25 years of experience, as well as for inexperienced investors. Roper noted she often can't tell from Web sites of large dually registered brokerages whether the material she is looking at refers to their suitability duties as broker-dealers or their fiduciary obligations as investment advisors.