As the debate continues over extension of the fiduciary standard to brokers who advise retail investors and the SEC and Department of Labor prepare economic or cost studies as a next step before making final determinations on their separate fiduciary rulemakings, fi360 and AdvisorOne have jointly conducted their second annual survey of investment advisors’ and brokers’ attitudes about the fiduciary standard.
Fielded in March and April of 2012, the survey was completed by 380 advisors from across the spectrum of advisor business models and affiliations. The survey not only sought advisors’ opinions on the fiduciary standard but also gauged their understanding of what such a standard means now, or would mean, to their businesses.
In part one of this three-part blog series on the survey’s findings we recalled that investors don’t understand the differences between brokers and investment advisors and that the majority of advisors believe that extension of the fiduciary standard to brokers would help restore investor confidence.
Key findings in the first report on the survey also pointed out that, contrary to what some industry groups might be saying formally on behalf of both independent broker-dealer and wirehouse brokers, registered reps and investment advisors in the field believe that extending the fiduciary standard would not cost investors more for advice, limit access to advice or products nor price investors out of the market for advice.
In part two below, we’ll discuss participants’ attitudes about pending or potential regulation, and assess their stated beliefs about some of the myths surrounding the implementation of those regulatory changes.
For instance, a majority of survey participants agrees with the somewhat controversial proposal (temporarily withdrawn) to extend the stringent ERISA fiduciary duty to more advisors. This majority extends even to the question of fiduciary duty to those advising on money coming out of 401(k)s and IRAs—long considered to be an area of vulnerability for many investors. Here we have highlights of this part of the survey:
Overall Fiduciary Relationship
When on the survey we asked, “Do you have a fiduciary relationship with your clients?,” the vast majority of independent RIAs and IARs said they do have a fiduciary relationship with all or nearly all of their clients, as you would expect for a group regulated under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. But for registered reps and dual registrants, most said they have a fiduciary relationship with all (38%), or some (37%) of their clients, and relatively few reported they had no client fiduciary relationships. A small number of registered reps and dual registrants (14%), reported they have both suitability and fiduciary relationships with some clients.
An Even Tougher Standard: ERISA
Here is where it really gets interesting. The ERISA standard is arguably even more stringent than the ’40 Act fiduciary standard. Yet when we asked in the survey, “Do you agree in concept with the Labor Department’s plan to propose a rule that would redefine “fiduciary” and expand the number of advisors who are considered fiduciaries under ERISA?.” 70% of respondents—including registered reps and dual registrants—agree in concept with the rule that would make them a fiduciary. Of dual registrants and registered reps, 63% agree, while 76% of RIA/IARs agree.
In addition, 68% of all survey participants agree that the same fiduciary standard that applies to 401(k) plans should also apply to advice on IRA accounts. Within the overall group, 80% of RIA/IARs, 57% of registered reps and 54% of dual registrants agree.
Distributions From 401(k) and IRA Accounts
There may be no area of advising individual investors where there is greater vulnerability for investors—and need for advice that is fiduciary—than distributions from retirement accounts. When we asked, “Should the fiduciary standard apply to advice to investors on distributions from 401(k) or IRA accounts?,” 79% agreed. That percentage included 68% of registered reps and dual registrants, and 88% of RIA/IARs.