Paying Hidden Costs Because your Broker’s not a Fiduciary?

Investors often choose big banks and investment firms over smaller financial advisors because they think the brand name and size makes the service and product offerings better. In actuality, it’s often the reverse.

Unless your firm is a Fiduciary, chances are there are sales quotas and contests for the non fiduciary, “suitability” reps, who are often paid extra to put clients in proprietary funds that are not in the clients’ best interests, but that reap commissions for the brokerage house.

Last Friday the SEC issued a statement announcing that three investment advisers “have settled charges for breaching fiduciary duties to clients and generating millions of dollars of improper fees in the process.” The release goes on to say that “PNC Investments LLC, Securities America Advisors Inc., and Geneos Wealth Management Inc. failed to disclose conflicts of interest and violated their duty to seek best execution by investing advisory clients in higher-cost mutual fund shares when lower-cost shares of the same funds were available.”

And according to an article in Investment News last week, it turns out smaller credit card and savings customers may not have been the only ones who were misled in the Wells Fargo “fake account” scandal. The article states that “according to inside sources, some clients of the bank’s wealth-management division were steered into investments that maximized revenue for the bank and compensation for its employees.”

When will this stop and why would any one continue to do business with one of these non Fiduciary firms?

The big problem is lack of transparency. Most investors don’t understand how the business works and how broker-dealers make their money. That means the investors are, in effect, investing blindfolded. And while there are many good, principled people at the larger firms, because they are not bound by the Fiduciary Standard, there is lots of potential for recommending something that is “almost as good” as the best product for you.

The result is that, according to a survey just released by the CFA Institute, a majority of investors believe that their advisors fail to fully disclose conflicts of interest and the fees they charge. Only 35% of individual investors polled believe that their advisor always puts their clients’ interests ahead of their own and only 25% of the institutional investors who participated in the survey.

April is National Financial Literacy month and one of the most important Financial Lessons investors – and potential investors – can learn this month is what “Fiduciary” means and why it’s so critical to your financial health.

When you’re working with a fee-only Fiduciary, they have sworn to only recommend financial products that are the best for their clients. Most broker-dealers in large wire houses have only agreed to uphold the “suitability” standard, which means they are allowed to recommend investments that are “suitable” – not best – for you but potentially yield a markup for their company or bonus or commission for them.

If you’re unclear about what fees you are paying, share classes you own, or how much your funds are costing you in annual expenses, contact us for a free analysis of your currents investments and the costs associated with them.

Particularly during Financial Literacy Month, make sure your Financial Advisor is working for you.


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