In his response to my January 8 blog, Jay Martin raises an interesting issue about whether a fiduciary standard can or should be applied to securities sales. He writes: “I, for one, am thoroughly confused how sales can or should be fiduciary.”
The implication here is that it shouldn’t be, and I couldn’t agree more. But then he goes on to imply that the standard of “caveat emptor” is sufficient to protect financial consumers in sales situations, and that’s where I have to respectfully disagree.
“Buyer beware” works great in situations where the consumer is an equal party to the transaction and–and this is the important part–understands the nature of the relationship: that the salesperson is trying to sell a car, a cell phone, a putter, an upgrade to a suite, etc. However, when it comes to securities “sales” we all know that’s not the case (whether we admit it or not).
In my own recurring straw poll of asking people over the years, including “sophisticated” investors, lawyers, business executives, high-net-worth folks, and so on, if they think their broker has a fiduciary duty to put their interests first, not one has ever answered “No, they don’t.”