Pope Francis wants financial advisers to work like fiduciaries

Vatican bulletin admonishes advisers who act against the best interests of their clients

May 18, 2018 @ 2:05 pm

By Bruce Kelly

Pope Francis weighed in on the debate over the need for a universal fiduciary standard for financial advisers Thursday in a wide critique of global finance that admonished advisers who worked against the best interests of their clients.

Issued by the Vatican, the bulletin took aim at broad targets, such as selfishness in the financial industry, to more specifics points, including credit default swaps, a form of derivative criticized in the past by Warren Buffett.

But the pope scrutinized financial advisers and how they manage the "savings" of their clients.

"The saving itself, when entrusted in the expert hands of financial advisers, needs to be administered well, and not just managed," according to the Vatican bulletin, which was titled "Considerations for ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic-financial system."

The bulletin took square aim at churning, or the practice of a broker or adviser making unnecessary trades to generate commissions with no regard for the client's portfolio.

"Among the morally questionable activities of financial advisers in the management of savings, the following are to be taken into account: an excessive movement of the investment portfolio commonly aimed at increasing the revenues deriving from the commission for the bank or other financial intermediary," according to the Vatican bulletin.

Next, the Vatican criticized advisers who failed to act as a fiduciary by not avoiding conflicts of interest and not working as a prudent professional.

The Vatican bulletin described dubious activities of advisers, including "a failure from a due impartiality in offering instruments of saving, which, compared with some banks, the product of others would suit better the needs of the clients," along with "the scarcity of an adequate diligence or even a malicious negligence on the part of financial advisers regarding the protection of related interests to the portfolio of their clients."

Creating a universal fiduciary standard for the 300,000 retail brokers and financial advisers has been at the center of the financial advice industry since the credit crisis a decade ago. In March, a federal circuit court voted to vacate the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule created during the Obama administration.

Knut Rostad, president of the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard, was buoyed by the pope's focus on financial advisers working in their clients' best interest.

"As an observer of the pope, I'm not surprised but delighted he has put fiduciary conduct and advisers in the spotlight. I hope that the many staunchly Catholic advisers to President Trump take his words seriously," he said, referring to the administration's efforts to review and possibly rescind the DOL fiduciary rule.

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