(Dow Jones) Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s chairman and chief executive told a commission investigating the financial crisis Wednesday that he supports a fiduciary standard for brokers who provide advice to retail investors.
Lloyd Blankfein, who testified during a Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, said in prepared comments that he supports "the extension of a fiduciary standard to broker-dealer registered representatives who provide advice to retail investors."
"The fiduciary standard puts the interests of the client first. The advice-giving functions of brokers who work with investors have become similar to that of investment advisors. But, investors may not understand that the person they are getting advice from may be regulated under different rules and regulations," he said.
"Retail investors should be able expect the same duty of care when they are receiving investment advice," said Blankfein.
Blankfein made the remarks during the first of two days of hearings being conducted by the commission, a bipartisan, 10-member panel created by Congress to investigate and report on the financial crisis. Blankfein testified along with other top Wall Street banking executives, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Chairman and Chief Executive James Dimon.
The fiduciary comments comprised just a paragraph amid Blankfein's 13 pages of testimony, most of which focused on Goldman's business practices, lending activities and risk management practices.
Blankfein faced tough questioning during the hearing from former California State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who heads the commission. Angelides, at one point, asked Blankfein whether a practice of betting against some of the subprime mortgage securities Goldman was selling to investors was a conflict of interest.
He replied that Goldman didn't have a legal obligation to disclose when it was betting against the securities it was selling.
"We are not a fiduciary," he said.
Fiduciary advocates said they were surprised by Blankfein's public support for applying the standard to certain brokers.
"It's absolutely refreshing and hopeful that the face of Wall Street has gone out of his way to make this statement," said Knut Rostad, a regulatory compliance officer for Rembert Pendleton Jackson, a registered investment advisor in Falls Church, Va., and chairman of The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard, an advocacy group.
David Tittsworth, executive director of the Investment Adviser Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, says Blankfein's comments about putting client interests ahead of the brokers' are "very consistent" with the same type of fiduciary standard that currently applies to investment advisers. "That sounds like what we've been saying," he said.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma, a trade group that represents the brokerage industry, has advocated that a new federal fiduciary standard should apply to brokers. Investor advocates, however, are concerned that new standard could mean diluting the obligations that, they say, advisers should adhere to for their clients' benefit.
It is unclear from Blankfein's comments whether he supports a new federal fiduciary standard, or a traditional standard favored by many investment advisors and investor advocates.
A Goldman Sachs spokesman declined to immediately comment.
A Sifma spokesman declined to comment.
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