A lawyers' association has accused brokerage firms of misleading investors through their advertising, resulting in billions of dollars in losses to consumers.
The Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA) says nine brokerage firms give the impression in their advertising that they have a fiduciary obligation to put clients interests first, but when investors’ complaints go to arbitration the firms argue they have no fiduciary responsibility to clients.
The firms accused of misleading advertising are Merrill Lynch, Fidelity Investments, Ameriprise, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Allstate Financial, UBS, Berthel Fisher and Charles Schwab.
Investors lose approximately $17 billion a year due to conflicted advice obtained from brokerage firms, the association said in a report issued this week.
The PIABA is made up of lawyers who represent investors in securities and commodities arbitration proceedings and securities litigation.
The association report concludes that there is a compelling case to be made for a ban on conflicted advice in order to protect investors and to avoid confusion, such as when brokerage firms including Ameriprise, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, Wells Fargo, and Charles Schwab publicly state they support a fiduciary standard but later say they don’t have any fiduciary obligation in arbitration cases filed by investors who have lost some or all of their nest egg due to conflicted advice.
“In this atmosphere of misleading advertising and a complete disavowal by brokerage firms of the same ad claims in arbitration, investor losses will continue to mount at the rate of nearly $20 billion per year until the SEC and DOL prescribe the long-overdue remedy: a fiduciary duty standard banning conflicted advice,” said Joseph C. Peiffer, a New Orleans-based arbitration attorney, association president and co-author of the report.
“Until then, consumer confusion and losses will reign as the result of a striking difference between the positions brokerage firms take when soliciting customers and those they take when those customers arbitrate claims against the same firms. This is a huge disconnect that simply cannot be allowed to go on,” Peiffer added.
Some firms weren't availble for comment, but a Fidelity spokesperson said, “Every day we look out for the best interests of our more 20 million customers, and we welcome any regulatory proposal that allows us to provide the investment assistance that the average investor needs.”
A spokesman for Allstate said, "Allstate Financial Services registered representatives rigorously follow the applicable law. All products sold by Allstate undergo a suitability review. We uphold a high standard for ensuring the products we sell are suitable for each individual customer we serve."