WASHINGTON BUREAU — The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association today released a study indicating that applying a uniform fiduciary standard to all investment product sales would likely reduce product and service availability.
The impact assessment, by consultants at Oliver Wyman, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc., New York (NYSE:MMC), suggests that retail investors are likely to see a “negative impact on choice of advisory model, product access, and affordability of investment and advisory services” if the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) applies the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 fiduciary standard to all brokerage activity.
In the study, the Oliver Wyman consultants conclude that clients would face direct costs, and that the industry as a whole would face broader economic costs.
A uniform fiduciary standard could lead to “potential limitations on products accessibility for retail investors would place constraints on capital formation and an issuer’s ability to finance at cost-effective rates,” the consultants say.
Terry Headley, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Va., says he agrees with the SIFMA study conclusions.
Headley says most of NAIFA’s members are community-based small business owners.
New demands to move to a fiduciary standard of care could force some NAIFA members who are registered representatives to increase the cost of their services, and it could force others to leave the
business, reducing middle-market customers’ ability to choose how they buy financial products and services, Headley says.
“The best way to enhance consumer protection is through strong and effective supervision within financial services firms, and regular, periodic inspections by the SEC and other regulatory bodies,” Headley says.
Knut Rostad, chairman of the Committee for the Fiduciary Standard, Washington, is criticizing the Oliver Wyman study.
There “doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the data presented and the conclusions,” Rostad says.
The authors of the report seem to misunderstand the standard-of-care provision in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Rostad says.
“The overriding premise of the analysis is that brokers cannot receive commissions, and that is patently wrong,” Rostad says.
The Dodd-Frank Act requires the SEC to study any omissions or gaps in the current standard-of-care system, which applies a fiduciary standard to investment advisors and a suitability standard to broker dealers, including broker-dealers that use insurance agents to sell a limited range of products.
The act gives the SEC until January 2011 to complete the study and the authority to then impose a fiduciary standard if it sees fit to do so. Industry lawyers contend that the agency has retained authority under the law to impose a modified fiduciary standard on broker-dealers.