Organizations launch campaign to get investment advisers to comment on SEC advice rule

Promotional flyer depicts the 'intimate relationship' advisers have with clients

Jun 28, 2018 @ 7:00 am

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Several organizations that promote a fiduciary standard launched a campaign Thursday to encourage investment advisers to tell the Securities and Exchange Commission how advisers are different from brokers.

The goal is to generate comment letters from advisers about the SEC's investment-advice proposal, which is open for public comment until Aug. 7. It establishes a best-interest standard for brokers, which is designed to be a step up from the suitability standard that currently governs them, and maintains the current fiduciary standard for advisers.

But the groups say that the proposal blurs the lines between advisers and brokers and fails to make clear that brokers must be loyal to their firms before their clients.

"Brokers are in a relationship of three," a promotional flyer states. "You're different. By law, you're a fiduciary. You must be loyal and always put clients first. You have no hidden partners. You're in a relationship of two."

The flyer includes a photo of three people on a park bench. There is a woman leaning her head on the shoulder of a man who is holding hands with a separate woman at the end of the bench.

Knut Rostad, president of the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard, said that the photo is appropriate because courts have used the phrase "intimate relationship," as well as the words "loyalty, trust and confidence," to describe the duty of care that advisers owe to clients under the 1940 Investment Advisers Act.

"We are aiming to help the SEC understand the core differences that divide advisers and brokers, and we want to help [registered investment advisers] appreciate how much the SEC sees no difference between brokers and advisers," Mr. Rostad said.

In addition to the institute, other participants in the campaign are the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the Garrett Planning Network, XY Planning Network, Alliance of Comprehensive Planners and the Committee for the Fiduciary Standard.

The campaign might include paid advertising, according to Mr. Rostad, but a budget has not yet been established.

The adviser advocates concede that the population of advisers is much smaller than that of brokers and that brokers and financial firms are likely to write more comment letters than advisers. They are trying to ensure that advisers aren't complacent.

"We're trying to shake up the fiduciary community of practitioners," said Sheryl Garrett, president and founder of the Garrett Planning Network, a nationwide group of hourly, fee-only financial planners. "We don't have the numbers, but we need the voices."

Instead of muddling the differences between broker and adviser regulation, the SEC proposal should set a uniform fiduciary standard for retail investment advice, Ms. Garrett said.

"We want to make sure the SEC rule comes out good, strong and powerful because we want fiduciary for all," she said.

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