So you write a blog post about the fiduciary duty of financial service providers to their clients. Actually, the real story is about the lack of fiduciary duty that brokers have to their customers. Then an SEC Commissioner chimes in.
Tara Siegel Bernard writes for New York Times blog, Bucks: Making the Most of Your Money. On February 16 her post was Will You Be My Fiduciary? Her proposal was to arm consumers with fiduciary rights, regardless of what the law says. Merely ask our provider to sign a fiduciary pledge so they have a contractual obligation to be a fiduciary.
Perhaps to her surprise, she got a comment from Elisse Walter, Commissioner, Securities and Exchange Commission:
This well-written, easy-to-understand proposal captures the way that all financial professionals should treat investors. It recognizes that all financial professionals should be subject to a fiduciary duty. And in a simple and straightforward way it articulates the scope of the duty and cuts through what has become non-productive debate on this issue.
This articulation allows us to move on to another critical issue: financial professionals are unfortunately subject to different obligations when they are performing virtually identical services for investors. For example, a person cannot start a brokerage firm unless she demonstrates to a securities regulator that she has the expertise and operational capacity to engage in the type of business she proposes to start. No equivalent process exists for investment advisers. And, the law requires an adviser to disclose to his client the full range of circumstances where their interests may conflict, while the law governing brokerage firms does not impose that blanket obligation.
These are only two examples of the obligations that should be harmonized. I’m ready to see us get on with that work.
According to a message I got from Mark Story, the SEC’s Director of New Media, it’s only the second time that a senior-level SEC official has commented in a public forum.
The first was when former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox commented on a blog post by Jonathan Schwartz: Sunlight on a Cloudy Day….
It looks like an SEC Commissioner posts a blog comment every three and half years. Plan ahead for 2013.
Actually, I’m surprised that the SEC Commissioners have commented at all. I recognize that high-level government officials have to be much more cautious about what they say in a public forum. They run into a similar problem with the dissemination of information that public companies have with Regulation FD. Surprisingly (or not), that just so happens to be the subject of that first SEC comment.