A survey of investors released on Wednesday finds strong support for applying the same obligation of care to investment advisors and brokers providing investment advice to retail clients.
The poll of 1,319 investors was conducted in late August by ORC/Infogroup for a host of organizations that support the fiduciary standard of care for all financial professionals who dispense investment advice to individual investors. Among the key findings, 91% of respondents answered "yes" to a question that asked whether stockbrokers and investment advisors who provide similar investment advice should follow the same investor rules.
In addition, 85% of survey participants "strongly agreed" and 12% "somewhat agreed" with the statement that financial professionals providing investment advice should put the client's interest ahead of their own, and that any potential conflicts of interest should be disclosed up front.
Putting client interests first is the essence of the fiduciary standard of care that applies to investment advisors who are regulated under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and are governed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
And it's the standard of care espoused by the various groups who sponsored the survey: Consumer Federation of America, AARP and the North American Securities Administrators Association, along with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., the Investment Adviser Association, the Financial Planning Association and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.
Broker-dealers, who are regulated under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and are overseen by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, are held to the suitability standard that requires them to make recommendations that fit a client's risk tolerance, objectives and financial status.
Proponents of both standards have been duking it out for years, and the issue will likely come to a head in January after the SEC conducts a six-month study of the issue as mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed this summer by Congress. Congress gave the agency the authority to write rules that would create a uniform standard of conduct for anyone who dispenses financial advice to retail clients. And the law says this standard must be "no less stringent" than the standard currently applicable to investment advisors.
"The fiduciary standard created by the Investment Advisers Act is very well established and the SEC shouldn't weaken it or water it down," David Tittsworth, executive director of the Investment Adviser Association, said during a press conference announcing the survey results.
A host of industry officials, from SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro to FINRA Chairman and CEO Rick Ketchum, have called for some type of uniform fiduciary standard. What's unclear is what shape that so-called uniform standard should take. Broker-dealers argue the fiduciary standard under the Investment Advisers Act is inconsistent with their business model, and if applied to them could make it too costly to provide investment advice to Main Street investors.
Supporters of the fiduciary standard who spoke at the press conference aren't buying it. Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, said broker-dealers in recent years have revamped their traditional commission-based model to be more advisory-based because, she said, they realize it's a more profitable model.