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Survey: Consumers Want Fiduciary Standard Scope Expanded

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WASHINGTON BUREAU — About 91% of U.S. investors say stockbrokers and investment advisors who provide the same kinds of advisory services should follow the same investor protection rules, according to sponsors of a recent survey.

The survey sponsors want the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to consider the idea of requiring financial professionals who give personalized investment advice to use a fiduciary standard of care, which would require the financial professionals’ to put clients’ interests ahead of their own.

The sponsors are AARP, Washington; the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Washington; the North American Securities Administrators Association, Washington; and a number of planner and advisor groups — the Financial Planning Association, Denver; the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc., Washington; the Investment Adviser Association, Washington; and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, Arlington Heights, Ill.

A fiduciary standard provision in the new Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has given the SEC 6 months to complete a study of gaps in the current standard-of-care regulations. After the SEC completes the study, it will have the authority to publish a standard-of-care regulation

A firm polled 1,319 investors for the survey sponsors in August. The survey sponsors say 96% of the survey participants said the fiduciary requirement should apply to insurance agents who sell investments.

The sponsors say they also found widespread misunderstanding about which financial professionals are held to a fiduciary standard: 60% of the survey participants said insurance agents already have a fiduciary duty to their clients. About 66% believe that stockbrokers are subject to a fiduciary duty. But only 75% of the participants understood that investment advisors and financial planners, who already are subject to a fiduciary duty, use a fiduciary standard.

The survey sponsors say insurance agents have created “significant headwinds” to establishing a “uniform fiduciary standard” by sending the SEC about 2,700 comment letters.

Barbara Roper, CFA director of investor protection, said during a conference call that the survey “confirms that investors are clueless when it comes to the different standards of care that apply to brokers and investment advisers.”

“No one in their right mind would create a system in which individuals who call themselves by titles and offer services that are indistinguishable to the average investor are subject to two different standards when they do so,” Roper said. “This is precisely the world that SEC policy over the past two decades has helped to create. Now, Congress has given the SEC a chance to fix those past errors by adopting a policy that makes sense to investors and puts their interests first. “