Financial advisors are the Number 1 litigious target in America today, according to Robert S. Mills, president of Financial Advisors Legal Association, Las Vegas.
The current economic crisis, with the resulting stock market losses, will undoubtedly spawn a huge increase in litigation against financial advisors. With the assistance of plaintiff’s counsel, clients will look for someone to blame for their losses in stocks, mutual funds and variable annuities.
The attitude of many filing such lawsuits is that the stock market should only go up. When it does not, it is the fault of the financial advisor.
We understand that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Washington, D.C., is gearing up its arbitration resources to handle the expansion of litigation that is expected to result from the meltdown.
It is difficult for financial advisors to defend against clients’ claims that “unsuitable” investments were recommended. After all, “suitability” is largely in the eye of the beholder. There are really few objective standards that measure what is “suitable” and what is not. “Suitability” is almost totally subjective.
Therefore, the only way to demonstrate that an investment was suitable is in the words of the clients themselves. The only way to show what the client was thinking is through detailed documentation at all stages of the relationship.
The attitude of many clients who resort to litigation against financial advisors is that if the investment lost value, then it was per se unsuitable and that the resultant loss is somehow the fault of the financial advisor.
The fact that there has been a broad-based financial meltdown resulting in the loss of trillions of dollars to the American economy is never brought to light. Instead, the claim is that the client should never have been exposed to any risk–even though there would have been no way to reach the client’s goals without exposure to market risk.
As expert witnesses, we have had the opportunity to observe a number of FINRA arbitrations where the client claims that he or she should have never been sold a variable annuity and that the VA’s underlying investments were too speculative for the client’s financial sophistication and risk tolerance. Whether or not the financial advisor (and broker-dealer) prevails in such litigation is related not only to defense lawyer skill, but more importantly to the extent of financial advisor’s documentation.