Very few investors know there are two ethical standards for financial advisors. One is a fiduciary standard that requires advisors to always do what is best for their clients. The other is a much lower standard that requires advisors to make suitable recommendations, however they do not have to do what is best for their clients. Suitability sounds good, but it is a vague standard that varies by investor. Guess which one Wall Street prefers?
Obama and the Department of Labor want to make the fiduciary standard a minimum requirement for any financial advisor who invests retirement assets. I assume this means assets in retirement plans, such as 401ks, and assets in IRAs. Both are tax-deferred and both have trillions of dollars of invested assets.
Obama, and most Democrats, believe Wall Street rip-offs investors in the amount of $17 billion (1% of $1.7 trillion) per year by charging excessive expenses. This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Investors lose a lot more than $17 billion due to bad financial advice and under-performing investments.
Tens of millions of Americans do not believe they have enough money to retire and live in comfort and security for the rest of their lives. They can ill afford to be victimized by Wall Street greed and predatory business practices. Without a doubt, they need the protection of fiduciary ethical standards that put their need to achieve financial goals ahead of their advisors’ need to make money. It starts with full disclosure for all potential conflicts of interest and expenses.
Boomers and current retirees need protection from the same predatory business practices for the same reasons. They do not have as many options as younger investors who have time to recover from bad financial advice, excessive expenses, and bad investment products. They face tough options like deferred retirements, reduced standards of living during retirement, and financial instability late in life.
If fiduciary standards apply to assets in IRAs, the same standards should apply to retirement assets of seniors outside of IRAs. Trillions of dollars of assets are held in taxable investment accounts, CDs, and annuities. In fact, some seniors have more assets outside of tax-deferred accounts than they have inside tax-deferred accounts (401ks and IRAs).
Wall Street, who pretends to put senior interests first, is spending millions of dollars fighting fiduciary standards that protect investors. Its companies do not want to be held liable for doing what is best for seniors who are preserving retirement assets and younger investors who are accumulating retirement assets.
The next time you select a financial advisor limit your selection to a firm or professional who acknowledges their fiduciary status in writing. Avoid any advisor who is not willing to provide this written acknowledgement. Then, if Wall Street wins and it probably will, you are not impacted by lower ethical standards that put Wall Street interests ahead of yours.