I’ve written many times over the years about how Ron Roge and other members of the NAPFA board virtually singlehandedly drove fee compensation for advisors to the widespread acceptance it enjoys today. Largely through the efforts in the 1990s of Ron, who became head of NAPFA’s media relations committee due to the proximity of his Long Island practice to New York City, they doggedly lobbied the mainstream media into seeing fees as a more client-centered way to structure an advisory relationship.
One of the results of their campaign was tremendous pressure on Wall Street brokerages to convert to fee-compensated asset management, which they have done. That, in turn, led to the debate over whether brokers had transitioned into investment advisors, with a corresponding fiduciary duty. The result was the Obama Administration’s request for a fiduciary duty for brokers, and the inclusion of fiduciary language in both the House and Senate versions of financial services reform.
As you’re undoubtedly aware, the broker fiduciary duty was dropped from the Senate bill, but is still alive in the form of being turned over to the SEC in the House version. Whether that fiduciary duty will survive the Congressional reconciliation process (after the Senate finally passes its bill) is anybody’s guess. But whether brokers end up with a duty to put their clients’ interests first in this legislation, it seems to me that a universal fiduciary duty is an idea whose time has undeniably come: Washington insiders now understand the issues at stake, the financial media is writing about it, and consumers are finally realizing that their brokers and agents currently aren’t required by law to be on their side of table. Even SIMFA has realized the futility of fighting a fiduciary duty.