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Market forces ahead of regulators on fiduciary standard

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I don’t know when I first learned about Chinese water torture, but I must have been eight or nine. I don’t remember what brought it up, I just remember it. What brought this to my mind was a rare hour or two I afforded myself as my family cooked a special Father’s Day brunch for me. For the first time in too long a time (last Father’s Day?), I plopped myself on the couch and watched an episode of one of my favorite TV shows “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” In it, an evil Chinese gang gave one of the regular players the old Chinese water torture.

If you don’t know, Chinese water torture involves water continuously dripped on the forehead of a restrained person. It’s supposed to make one go mad.

When fi360’s Blaine Aikin told me competitive forces were driving us to a universal fiduciary standard – with or without regulators’ consent (see “Exclusive Interview with fi360’s Blaine Aikin: Competitive Forces Favor Fiduciary Standard,”, June 20, 2013) – I was reminded of ol’ Pete (sans pistol) sitting in that abandoned mineshaft watching the water drip, drip, drip on his head.

I’ve noticed the headlines. Have you? Is it me or does it seem like more brokers are jumping ship and moving to investment advisor firms? Why would that be? If this is true, then we are witnessing financial advisors shifting from a “suitability standard” environment to one emphasizing the “fiduciary standard.” If there’s one thing we know about financial service providers, they have a nose for going where the money is. Perhaps there’s more money to be had in the market that features the fiduciary standard.


Or how about the headlines that mention survey results saying the financial service industry ranks among the lowest industries when it comes to trust? Granted, the industry still scores higher than Congress, not that that is anything to be proud of. What’s the best way to counter this trend? How about showing loyalty by always putting the clients’ interests first? How about pledging to never ever accept compensation from products placed in clients’ accounts? How about openly embracing the fiduciary standard? 

Drip. Drip. 

But the most convincing evidence the market is trending toward those offering fiduciary-based services is the reaction from the competition. Rather than the hydraulic dilemma faced by Pete Hutter in “Brisco County, Jr.,” maybe Queen Gertrude’s subconscious mea culpa in Hamlet is more appropriate here. Clearly, methinks the suitability-based side of the industry doth protest too much. If they weren’t worried about market forces driving more and more investors to advisors operating under the fiduciary standard, they wouldn’t be fighting its universal adoption as hard. In fact, one can argue they aren’t merely trying to justify the suitability standard, they’re trying to discredit the fiduciary standard. You know what they say about a cornered animal. 

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Think about it. If investors know the true meaning of the fiduciary standard and can easily identify those advisors operating under the fiduciary standard, why would they hire anyone else?

If you’re to believe market trends, they’re not.

See also: SEC fiduciary questionnaire is fatally flawed


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