Category Archives: News Article

Ferrara in The Hill: DOL’s fiduciary standard: Good for clients; workable for advisers

The Hill recently published an op-ed by Ray Ferrara, CFP®, Chairman and CEO of ProVise Management Group LLC, former Chair of the Board of Directors of CFP Board, and a former FPA Board Director, endorsing the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed fiduciary rule. Ferrara also testified during an August 10 hearing on the rule, convened by the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration.


Earlier this year, the Department of Labor (DOL) re-proposed a rule that would require financial firms and advisers providing retirement advice to do something the vast majority of consumers already believe they are required to do: provide advice that is in the best interests of their clients.

While many advisers strive to do the right thing even though they are not legally required to do so, incentives to sell products often conflict with best-interest advice to clients. The DOL’s common sense proposal to require those who provide retirement advice to function under a fiduciary standard has unfortunately been met with strong opposition – primarily from financial industry groups. They say the rule is “unworkable.” I disagree. What is unworkable and should not continue is the status quo: a regulatory framework that allows for advice that is not in the best interest of clients and that erodes the retirement savings of millions of Americans.

The DOL’s proposed update of its rule is long overdue. I began my career four years before ERISA became law 40 years ago. There were no Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), let alone 401(k) plans; many people relied on their pensions; and stock ownership was the province of the well-heeled. Today, that’s no longer the case. Pensions are almost a thing of the past and individuals are required to take on greater responsibility for their finances, including making choices from among increasingly complex financial products to save for a comfortable retirement. Today, American savers invest more than $14 trillion in 401(k) plans and IRAs.

With this shift in responsibility for retirement planning from employers to individuals, the public has lost an important safety net. Now more than ever they need competent and ethical financial advice from professionals they can trust. Research shows that they want and expect this advice to come from people who are going to put their best interest first.

Opponents to the DOL’s fiduciary rule suggest that the rule will limit advisors’ and firms’ ability to serve middle-class retirement investors and will hurt small businesses. This is not consistent with my personal experience.

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Washington Post: Find a Financial Adviser Who Will Put Your Interests First

Financial adviser and columnist Barry Ritholtz urges consumers to look for and hire a financial adviser who is legally obligated to put the client’s interest first under a fiduciary standard in his latest article for The Washington Post.

Excerpt: Today’s column is going to be on the wonky side, but stay with me — it is very important stuff. For investors seeking some help, it can be crucial.

If you want financial advice, there are two things you should be aware of: First, the quality of advice you receive varies widely. You probably knew this already. The quality of everything you buy varies widely. It is as true for financial advice as it is for any product or service you may buy or otherwise consume. You can buy a Yugo or a Mercedes-Benz. They may both be automobiles, but they vary dramatically.

Regardless, everywhere these cars are sold, they each must meet the same government rules. Safety regulations, crash worthiness standards, fuel economy, consumer warranties, etc., apply equally to both vehicles.

This is decidedly not true of the people who provide you with financial advice. So we come to the second point: There are two completely different standards for these people — they are governed by two wholly different sets of regulations. The two standards are “suitability” and “fiduciary.”

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Coalition Research Featured in Investment News, Think Advisor, Financial Advisor

The Financial Planning Coalition’s research on the current insufficient regulatory standards for financial planners was featured in reports by Mark Schoeff at Investment News, Emily Zulz at Think Advisor, and Karen DeMasters at Financial Advisor.  Click through to read more.

Financial planning clients not getting what they pay for: study
Investment News
October 20, 2014
By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Third of Clients Say They Didn’t Get Adequate Financial Planning Services
Think Advisor
October 20, 2014
By Emily Zulz

Financial Planning Profession Needs More Regulation, Group Says
Financial Advisor
October 20, 2014
By Karen DeMasters

The New York Times: Before the Advice, Check Out the Advisor

The New York Times’ Tara Siegel-Bernard examines the important role of fiduciary standard, how it differs from a suitability standard, and what to look for when it comes to both standards when hiring a financial advisor.

Excerpt: When Elaine and Merlin Toffel, a retired couple in their 70s, needed help with their investments, they went to their local U.S. Bank branch. The tellers knew them by their first names. They were comfortable there.

So when a teller suggested that they meet with the bank’s investment brokers, the Toffels made an appointment. After discussions and an evaluation, the bank sold them variable annuities, in which they invested more than $650,000. The annuities promised to generate lifetime income payments.

“We wanted to make the most amount of interest we could so if we needed it to live on, we could use it,” said Ms. Toffel, 74, of Lindenhurst, Ill.

What she says they didn’t fully understand was that the variable annuities came with a hefty annual charge: about 4 percent of the amount invested. That’s more than $26,000, annually — enough to buy a new Honda sedan every year. What’s more, if they needed to tap the money right away, there would be a 7 percent surrender charge, or more than $45,000.

Michael Walsh, a spokesman for U.S. Bank, said that the investments were appropriate for the Toffels, that fees were disclosed and that the sale was completed after months of consultations. But the Toffels now question whether they were given financial advice that was truly in their best interests. Like many consumers, they say they didn’t realize that their broker wasn’t required to follow the most stringent requirement for financial professionals, known as the fiduciary standard. It amounts to this: providing advice that is always 100 percent in the consumer’s interest.

Many people think that they are getting that kind of advice when they are not, said Arthur Laby, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law and a former assistant general counsel at the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Brokerage customers are, in a certain sense, deceived,” he said. “If brokers continue to call themselves advisers and advertise advisory services, customers believe they are receiving objective advice that is in their best interest. In many cases, however, they are not.”

Brokers, like those at the Toffels’ bank, are technically known as registered representatives. They are required only to recommend “suitable” investments based on an investor’s personal situation — their age, investment goals, time horizon and appetite for risk, among other things. “Suitable” may sound like an adequate standard, but there’s a hitch: It can mean that a broker isn’t required to put a customer’s interests before his own.

There are some specific situations when brokers must act as fiduciaries — for example, when they collect a percentage of total assets to manage an investment account, or when they are given full control of an investor’s account. But under current rules, a broker can take off his fiduciary hat and recommend merely “suitable” investments for the same customer’s other buckets of money. Confusing? Absolutely.

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SEC Investor Advocate Makes Case for User Fees

This week, Rick Fleming, the SEC’s Investor Advocate, delivered a speech at the Southwest Securities Conference in Dallas, Texas.  In his remarks, Fleming described the newly created Office of the Investor Advocate, created under the Dodd-Frank Act, and the core issues impacting investors that the office will focus on during its inaugural year.  In addition, Fleming acknowledged the need to provide the SEC with sufficient funding to “conduct an adequate number of investment adviser examinations,” going so far as to recommend Congress authorize the SEC to collect user fees as a long-term solution to funding RIA examinations.  The following is an excerpt from his speech, the full text of which can be found here.

“As many of you are aware, the SEC examined only about 9 percent of registered investment advisers in Fiscal Year 2013. This equates to a frequency of approximately once every 11 years, a rate that many observers find unacceptable.

“There are multiple reasons for the lack of exam coverage, but in my view it primarily boils down to the fact that the SEC has not received sufficient resources to keep up with the burgeoning workload. The number of SEC-registered advisers has grown by approximately 40 percent over the past decade to nearly 11,500 today. And, as the number of investment advisers has grown, so too has their complexity. The amount of assets managed by investment advisers is on a steep ascent, climbing from $20 trillion a decade ago to an estimated $55 trillion by the end of Fiscal Year 2015. In comparison, staff in the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) has grown only about 10 percent in the past decade.

“From my own personal experience, I know that investors are exposed to fraud and abuse when regulators cannot maintain an adequate regulatory presence. While most investment advisers are trustworthy and honest, I have personally prosecuted one who stole more than $7 million from his clients. In the course of that case, I met with numerous victims who did everything right – they worked hard, saved their money, and entrusted their savings to a licensed person who they thought was investing it in a normal portfolio of legitimate securities – only to have their life savings taken by that licensed “professional.” For those investors, an ounce of prevention would have been worth far more than the pound of cure. With their money gone, a maximum prison sentence did little to help those retirees who had to return to work or face a diminished standard of living, or the individual with diminished capacity whose trust fund was stolen, or the church that lost its building fund.

“Not surprisingly, then, as my very first recommendation to Congress, I recommended that Congress appropriate the needed funds this year so that the Commission can hire more examiners without further delay. In addition, I voiced support for a more long-term, sustainable solution. I recommended that Congress authorize the SEC to collect an annual “user fee” from registered investment advisers and to limit the use of those funds to expenses associated with investment adviser examinations.

“Admittedly, a shorter examination cycle won’t stop all fraud, but I believe it will allow the SEC to halt these types of activities sooner and will provide a stronger deterrent to advisers who might otherwise succumb to the temptation to steal. It will also curtail other unethical practices, including excessive fees, excessive trading, and undisclosed conflicts of interest. Many of you in this room have uncovered these types of practices and can attest to the damage it causes to investors.”

Financial Advisor: SEC Chair White Attacked For Weak Investor Protection

Ted Knutson of Financial Advisor reports that several consumer advocates have forcefully criticized SEC Chair Mary Jo White for slow and weak investor protection rulemaking, including the Commission’s failure to adopt a uniform fiduciary standard.

Excerpt– Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White was attacked for slow and weak investor protection rulemaking by several consumer advocates in e-mails and conversations with Financial Advisor magazine.

“Investor protection under Chair White has been virtually nonexistent. Her positions in the crowdfunding and private offering rulemakings and her false promises regarding the fiduciary duty reflect a strong anti-investor bent,” said SEC Investor Advisory Committee member and University of Mississippi Law Professor Mercer Bullard on Tuesday.