Making Sense of the Nonsensical Broker Comp Rule

New rule inequitable for independent BDs

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  • Preventing and Dealing with Client Complaints Although the SEC has not provided specific guidance on how client complaints should be handled, a firm’s policies and procedures should provide clear direction how to do so, as neglecting complaints can exacerbate a bad situation.
  • Client Communication and Miscommunication RIA policies and procedures must specify what type of communications should be retained. The safest course of action is for RIAs to retain all communications—to clients, from clients, and about client accounts.  To comply with fiduciary obligations, communications must be thorough and not mislead.

For advisors changing broker-dealers, financial assistance in the form of forgivable loans is standard procedure for regional broker-dealers and wirehouses, but less common in the independent channel. Wirehouses commonly offer up to 300% of trailing 12 months’ production. In the independent channel, for those firms that even offer forgivable notes, the amounts are typically in the range of 10% to 20% of trailing 12 months’ production. 

The new disclosure rule will not apply to incentives totaling less than $50,000. While that figure might look reasonable at first glance, applying a static amount as a guideline fails to differentiate between large and small producers.

For example, in the independent channel, forgivable note money is intended to cover initial transition expenses and potential downtime during the transition (one to three months) of their book of business. A large producer may have 1,000 ACAT transfers, which between qualified and non-qualified accounts can average out at $100 per ACAT transfer. This activity alone equates to a $100,000 expense.

Still not accounted for are registration costs, business cards, stationery, staffing costs for transition paperwork and for those coming from a wirehouse to an independent firm, the added expense of setting up an office.  If regulators had even a shred of common sense, they would apply the disclosure rule to a percentage of trailing 12 months’ production with a 30% cap, which would represent a fair percentage to justify coverage of transition expenses and production downtime. Anything above that 30% threshold could be considered more than transition needs and therefore in need of disclosure.

Transition money is market driven. As the demand for quality reps increases, transition money typically increases to sync to that demand. Government regulators have a history of disdain for private sector industries that make large sums and are thus imposing greater scrutiny. However, when the tables are turned, those same regulators are resistant to disclose anything of what they spend or how they spend it. 

Case in point: the $787 billion in economic stimulus, which we were told would spur the economy and create jobs, was spent mostly to fund existing government jobs. At the start of the 2008 recession only one person made $170,000 or more in the Department of Transportation.  Just 18 months later, 1,690 employees made more than that amount. The Agriculture department is another spending behemoth, with a budget totaling more than the net incomes of all the nation’s farmers. 

This new compensation disclosure rules demonstrates the grind of government regulators telling us to “do as we say, not as we do.” It’s getting tiresome.

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