An avalanche of comments deluged news outlets over the recent release of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “Study on Investment Advisers and Broker-Dealers.”
The study urges that a uniform fiduciary standard be adopted for both investment advisers who now adhere to it and broker-dealers who often rely on the so-called suitability standard. It was a result that was widely expected. The 208-page document spells out its recommendations and its reason for calling for a uniform standard can be summed up in one word: confusion.
“The recommendations,” the study said, “are designed to increase investor protection and decrease investor confusion in the most practicable, least burdensome way for investors, broker-dealers and investment advisers.”
Yes, confusion on the part of the retail investor. What standard of care applies when getting financial advice from an investment adviser as compared to a broker-dealer? Is there any real difference?
The study stated that retail investors and investor advocates sent in comments saying that: “Many find the standards of care confusing, and are uncertain about the meaning of the various titles and designations used by investment advisers and broker-dealers.”
The study went on to say: “Retail customers should not have to parse through legal distinctions to determine whether the advice they receive was provided in accordance with their expectations.”
Then again, neither should advisors on either side of this debate. In that regard, the study stated that in putting a uniform standard into practice, the SEC “should identify specific examples of potentially relevant and common material conflicts of interest in order to facilitate a smooth transition o the new standard. . .”
In addition, under a duty of loyalty, a uniform standard, the study said, “will obligate both investment advisers and broker-dealers to eliminate or disclose conflicts of interest.”
And the study suggested that the Commission set out rules and offer guidance as to what it means to provide “personalized investment advice about securities.”
After all, what advisors—whether they are investment advisers or fall under a broker-dealer’s umbrella—need is clear and distinct guidance. They need guidance from regulators that walk them through specific examples and aren’t merely vague intonations what the new fiduciary standard should be.
Let’s remember. This study is merely the first step in the path to a uniform fiduciary standard. There is a long, long way to