The Advantage for Advisors of a Fiduciary Duty Right Now

More On Legal & Compliance

from The Advisor's Professional Library
  • Anti-Fraud Provisions of the Investment Advisers Act RIAs and IARs should view themselves as fiduciaries at all times, whether they meet the legal definition or not.  Deviating from the fiduciary standard of full disclosure while courting clients may cause the advisor significant problems.
  • Advertising Advisor Services and Credentials Section 206 of the Investment Advisers Act contains the anti-fraud provision of the statute and ensures that RIAs’ advertising and marketing practices are consistent with the fiduciary duty owed to clients and prospective clients.   

In last week’s blog posting, I wrote about the harm some of the current anti-fiduciary standard rhetoric may be doing to the brokerage industry. Today, I’d like to look at the other side of that coin, to suggest a marketing opportunity the current situation is creating for advisors who do accept a fiduciary duty to their clients, such as RIAs.

A few years ago, I met an advisor at a conference here in Santa Fe who had an unusual closing strategy. He did a lot of qualified plans for small businesses, and as is common in that end of the advisory world, often found himself competing with brokers from major wirehouses. Even though he had an Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) designation from Fi360, it didn’t help as much as he’d hoped: Brokers would often simply tell prospective clients that they were fiduciaries, too.

So in response he devised this strategy: he created a simple one-page letter, stating that he accepted a fiduciary duty to his client, and spelled out in clear terms exactly what that meant (to put the client’s interests first in all matters, to avoid conflicts of interest, etc.).

When he met with potential clients, he would sign the letter in front of them, give it to them, carefully explain what it meant, and then he’d hand them blank copies of the same letter for the other competing “advisors” to sign.

He told me that after he started this practice, he never again lost a new client to a broker.

Will all the attention that the debate about a fiduciary standard for brokers has received in the media and by financial consumers, I can’t help but think that no matter what the SEC decides to do (or not do), there is finally a broad marketing advantage for fiduciary advisors.

Some folks might not want to go through the drama of signing a letter in front of prospective clients, but prominently positioning one’s fiduciary duty to clients—and the willingness to accept it—in marketing materials and presentations will likely resonate today like never before.

Of course, should the SEC water down a standard for brokers, pointing out those differences probably won’t hurt either. 

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