Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro said in a speech on Friday that she personally backs a blanket fiduciary standard for advisors.
In a speech before the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals in Chicago on July 9, Schapiro said “I have long advocated such a uniform fiduciary standard and I am pleased the legislation would provide us with the rulemaking authority necessary to implement it,” referring to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
However, while Schapiro may be bullish on the agency’s ability to promulgate a uniform fiduciary standard, that doesn’t mean such a rule is in the bag. The SEC is charged with conducting a six-month study on the differences between the fiduciary standard under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and the suitability standard non-registered investment advisors are held to by FINRA, with the goal of recommending rules that would bridge troublesome gaps between the two.
The debate is likely to get heated, to say the least. Banks, in particular, could be hurt by a blanket fiduciary standard, which could hypothetically put an end to platform programs if a new rule stipulated that investors pay a flat fee for anything they buy because many bank clients have fewer assets to invest. Heywood Sloane, managing director of the Bank Insurance and Securities Association, notes that the bill’s current language suggests proprietary products, commissions and selected lists of products aren’t off the table, but he remains wary of what the SEC might decide. “As the SEC works through this, it has to allow people to provide services in a way that earns them a living,” he says. “If not, you’ll see only high-net-worth individuals taken care of because the margins will be too tight on smaller accounts.”