Free Financial Advice? What Could Be Better for Consumers?

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  • Risk-Based Oversight of Investment Advisors Even if the SEC had a larger budget and more resources, it is doubtful that the Commission would have the resources to regularly examine all RIAs. Therefore, the SEC is likely to continue relying on risk-based oversight to fulfill its mission of protecting investors.
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I had an epiphany today, as I was reading Mark Schoeff’s July 21 article on InvestmentNews.com: “Congressman Explains Why He’s Trying to Stop Fiduciary Rule.” Schoeff’s story relates comments made by Rep. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) during his current Senate campaign. Apparently, Mr. Lankford’s opposition to a fiduciary standard for brokers is an attempt to stop the SEC from: “…creating a regulatory scheme that discourages middle- and lower-income Americans from investing by foisting higher regulatory and liability costs on brokers and driving them out of the advice market for those with modest assets.”

Of course, there’s nothing new about the “cost” argument being part of the securities industry’s constant stream of “reasons” why brokers should not have to act in the best interests of their clients. Yet something about Lankford’s claims—maybe his phrasing, or his forthright approach—brought my opposition to an abrupt halt.  

And I thought, dagnabbit (that’s what my grandmother from Iowa used to say), this guy’s onto something: what retail investor in their right mind would want a financial advisor to be required to put their interests first, when they could get “advice” for less from an advisor who’s free to put his/her own interests first, or represent the interests of their broker-dealer, bank or insurance company?

While the reason that requiring advisors to put clients’ interests first would raise costs still isn’t clear, I find that I’m no longer hampered by that little detail. In fact, now that I’ve found my Road to Damascus, it seems to me we’ve all been way too shortsighted in our approach to professionals in general. Mr. Lankford’s Congressional reasoning clearly raises the question: Why stop with financial advisors? If the duty to put people’s interests first costs us money, why not remove it from all professions? 

What follows are but a few examples, off the top of my head, of the myriad benefits of chucking this whole fiduciary/client/patient best interest thing for other professions in addition to financial advisors. I’m sure that once you see the light, you’ll come up with more examples of your own. 

Doctors

Why not let drug companies pay doctors a percentage of the cost of the drugs they prescribe? Each doctor could “sign” with a specific drug company, and patients would have the “right” to choose their physician in part based on their drug company affiliation. Doctors’ fees would go way down—in fact, I’d predict that some doctors would treat their patients for free. What’s more, I see surgeons getting in on the action too: waiving their high fee-based compensation in return for a cut of the drug, surgical supply and hospital charges associated with their operations. 

Lawyers

Why not let local, state and federal prosecutor offices pay defense attorneys a bounty on every client who gets convicted of a crime? Legal defense costs would down to next to nothing (again, with some lawyers representing their clients for free); conviction rates would soar, and more bad guys (along with everyone else) would go to jail. Cases would be settled much more quickly, reducing taxpayers’ trial costs.

For lawyers who try civil cases (lawsuits), why not pay both the plaintiffs’ (the suers) attorneys, and the defendants’ (the suees) attorneys a percentage of the final judgment? Legal fees would come way down, with most attorneys representing their clients for free, and lawsuits would be settled much more quickly, again reducing taxpayers’ courtroom costs. 

Accountants

Why not let the governments—state, local, federal—pay accountants a percentage of the taxes that their clients owe? Costs for accountants would go way down (I even envision some accountantants doing tax returns for free)—and sorely needed tax revenues would go up—at every governmental level. It’s a win/win.

Law Enforcement

Just imagine how much we’d save if, instead of footing the bill for hundreds of thousands of police, sheriffs, state troopers and FBI agents, we simply put law enforcement out for bid? Corporations, nonprofits, rich people, drug dealers, other countries and organized crime could all compete to fund our crime fighting—at no cost to the taxpayers. While we couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be occasional conflicts with the public’s interests, we’d have guidelines for “suitable behavior” when interacting with citizens. And, of course, we’d save billions.

Education

Why not let corporations, individuals, and/or special interest groups sponsor the teachers at grade schools , high schools and universities? The teachers could choose which sponsors they “sign” with, and then the sponsors could “work with” each teacher to set the curriculum for their class—and the various products and ideas to be “featured.” Again, the reduction in “costs” will be in the billions. 

Beginning to see a trend here? Seems to me that throughout Americans’ lives, the economics are very clear: this pesky requirement to put people’s/clients’/patients’/students’ interests ahead of their professionals is just costing everyone a lot of money. If we would just jump on the bandwagon along with luminaries such as Congressmen Lankford, Jeb Hensarling, and Spencer Bachus, SIFMA, FINRA, NAIFA, CFP Board and the SEC, wouldn’t we all be much better off? 

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