David Tittsworth may have been quoted in a recent Bloomberg piece critical of independent advisors, but he isn’t happy with the conclusions drawn. Tittsworth (left), executive director of the Investment Adviser Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that “exclusively represents the interests of SEC-registered investment advisor firms,” is taking issue with the overall theme of the article, as well as specific quotes it contains.
The article, which appeared on Bloomberg’s website Wednesday, begins with a (legitimate) tale of woe.
“Arnold and Cheryl Levy were a year away from retiring when Jeffrey Liskov, acting as their registered investment adviser, took a large position during July 2009 in a speculative fund with Arnold’s retirement money,” according to the piece. “According to court filings they lost about $85,000 on the ProShares UltraShort MSCI Emerging Markets (EEV) exchange-traded fund, which placed bets that foreign stocks would drop.”
The Levys claim in legal filings they lost about $149,000 on positions taken by their advisor, including the exchange-traded fund.
The story goes on to say Liskov was sliding toward bankruptcy, and the couple had to absorb a 44% loss on the fund. Liskov responded by saying he alerted the Levys to the initial purchase of the fund in a voicemail in July 2009, he said in court filings, and they were aware of the fund’s risks.
The piece notes registered investment advisers are billed as an alternative to traditional brokers because they are legally bound to a fiduciary duty to put their clients’ interests first, and typically charge fees instead of commissions.
“In practice, the lightly regulated RIA industry—where low barriers to entry helped swell membership by 39% in six years—may offer few protections for investors who wind up with incompetent [advisors],” Bloomberg reports.
“I think it’s unfortunate that people try to make the case that brokers are good and advisors are bad, and vice-versa,” Tittsworth responded in an interview. “I especially take issue with this idea that RIAs are lightly regulated. Ask any [chief compliance officer] if they think they’re lightly regulated. The amount and complexity of the regulatory scheme for advisors has increased dramatically in recent years.”
He admits there is an issue with the SEC and resources, adding that “where it all will end up is yet to be seen.” However, there is a “principles-based fiduciary duty with broad, anti-fraud regulations,” to which RIAs are subjected, Tittsworth says.
“I don’t know of any advisors that are breaking away to go independent because the regulatory oversight is somehow less. Although, there is no box on Form ADV to check to indicate that,” he adds.
While Tittsworth notes individuals states and the federal government have strong anti-fraud measures in place, “no one has yet found the regulatory silver bullet that will effectively regulate every single advisor or broker. If they did, we’d all be following that model now.”
The Bloomberg article’s claim that the amount of advisors joining independent ranks has increased 39% in six years is not sourced, although Tittsworth says the figure tracks with SEC data that found registered advisors numbered 8,302 in 2004 and 11,643 in 2010.
“Quick math finds that increase to be roughly 40%,” Tittsworth says. “That’s where [Bloomberg] most likely got that figure.”
No ‘Bernie Madoff’ Exam
Registering as an RIA “is just notifying regulators that you are holding yourself out as a professional investment [advisor], and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re good or ethical or competent,” Sheryl Garrett, founder of Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based Garrett Planning Network told Bloomberg.