Lawmakers and regulators are jumping on the fiduciary-duty bandwagon after the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and subsequent hearings. Several senators have or plan to introduce amendments to the financial overhaul legislation, and SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has backed the standard. “I believe that broker-dealers and investment advisers providing the same services, especially to retail investors, should meet that same high fiduciary standard,” Schapiro said.
Many of the firms who bought investments from Goldman Sachs and other broker-dealers could have avoided huge losses had their been a fiduciary standard in place at the time. A fiduciary is required to act in the best interest of their clients. They also have to fully disclose sources of compensation and any possible conflicts of interest. This way the client knows more fully what they are getting into, and why the advice or recommendation is being made.
This is the standard that investment advisors and Certified Financial Planner certificants are held to, and it protects the client.
I don’t agree with everything that the SEC does. They totally ignored the Madoff scandall even though they were given many clear warnings, tips and documentation about what was going on. But I do have to agree with them on this point, that anyone giving investment advice should have to act as a fiduciary to their clients. There are too many ways that financial companies and brokers can take advantage of consumers, and many of them do. Sure, if an investment is a registered mutual fund, the fees and expenses are all disclosed in the perspectus. But most people won’t read them, or if they do read them it’s too confusing to understand.
If you are working with a Certified Financial Planner Certificant, you know you have someone who is held to a higher standard. Now that doesn’t mean that all CFP’s are honest, you should always check out someone’s backround and complaint history. But if a CFP doesn’t act in the best interest of a client, he won’t be a CFP for long. The CFP Board will strip someone of the designation if they are found to be acting dishonestly. If you’re working with an independant CFP who doesn’t have sales goals that they have to meet, then you know they don’t have someone looking over their shoulder to make sure they’re selling enough of this or that.
This all comes down to doing the right thing for the client. When you’re putting your faith and trust in an “expert”, you shouldn’t have to worry about someone lining their pockets for the “expert advice” they are giving you. It’s definitely getting better out there, but we have a long way to go.