April 20, 2010

Definition of Character: The Challenge Faced by Reps Trying to Do the Right Thing

Here's an exchange I recently had with an independent registered rep, who's a friend of mine. I hope you'll find this as enlightening as I did.

RR: "I recently sent out a client satisfaction survey to my rather well-educated clients and explained the fiduciary vs. suitability standard and asked if they were aware of which standard applied to our relationship and if that mattered to them. So far the answers are all don't know and don't care.'"

Me: "Thanks for the e-mail. I'd love to see what you actually sent to your clients. Did you really explain to them that as a registered rep under the 'suitability standard' you are legally working for your B/D and are legally required to represent its interests, and not the clients'? Whereas, under a fiduciary duty to the clients, you would be legally required to represent the client's interest, ahead of your own, or any other institution? That's the reality, and my sense is that not one financial consumer in 10,000 truly understands this and its ramifications for who's really looking out for their best interests."

RR: "Legal compliance didn't allow me to go into the detail of the suitability standard as I was not allowed to infer any relationship was better than any other. I got really upset at this and other restrictions and wrote an e-mail to my B/D's head of marketing review, and this time, I sent it. The prior two or three e-mails I have written over the years, I deleted after venting. I have had one long phone call with the head of advertising compliance, with another scheduled this week so they are being responsive, but they feel their hands are tied by FINRA in most instances."

Me: Frankly, I can't think of anything to add here; his response seems to illuminate the problem with our current system far better than I could.

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