Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Brokers misleading investors about fiduciary duty: PIABA Report

The U.S. organization  , the  Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association ( PIABA) has issued a report highlighting how U.S. brokerages mislead investors as to the true nature of the dealer- client relationship.

They want Federal action to stop  U.S. Brokerage Firms misleading investors about their role as fiduciaries, which Firms deny to block arbitration claims.

"Investors believe they are doing business with individuals they can trust, because the brokers use titles which imply trust, their advertisements give the impression they can be trusted, and the brokers say they can be trusted to look out for the best interests of their clients.  A survey of the major brokerage firms show consistency in the advertising, in the tone they take on their websites, and the impression that they intend to leave on investors," said the report's other co-author, Christine Lazaro, director, Securities Arbitration Clinic at St. John's University School of Law.

"Yet when that trust is breached, a survey of answers filed in arbitrations demonstrate that these same firms disclaim liability when held to account in arbitration, and rely on case law to say no such duty exists. The public face of the firms is that they hold themselves to the highest standards, while the private face of the firms, in the arbitration forum where everything is non-public, is that they are mere order-takers," she says. https://piaba.org/system/files/pdfs/PIABA%20Fiduciary%20Study%20News%20Release.pdf 

A similar situation exists in Canada.Some examples of what has been dubbed The Grand Deception:

A survey of business titles by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) found  that there is a wide array of business titles in use by licensed representatives both across firms and, in some cases, within the same firm. Some of the more commonly used business titles that were reported through the survey include: Advisor, Financial Advisor, Financial Assistant, Investment Advisor, Senior Investment Advisor, Financial Consultant, Personal Finance Consultant, Financial Planner, Certified Financial Planner, Wealth Advisor, Investment Associate, Private Client Principal, Private Client Associate, Retirement Specialist, Consultant to Seniors, Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Managing Director. IIROC concluded that many of these business titles do not, on their own, provide a meaningful description of the type of services and/or investment products that a licensed representative can offer to a client. Some of these business titles imply that the individual carries out an executive function within a firm, for example, Senior Vice President, where the individual is not, in fact, a corporate officer of the firm. IIROC also found that there is a wide array of financial designations that licensed representatives possess and may put forward, in addition to their business titles, in their dealings with clients. While some financial designations, including professional designations like the Chartered Accountant designation, require a specified number of years of work or hours of classroom study, passing an examination, and continuing education, the requirements for others are much less rigorous. In fact, some financial designations may be obtained after a weekend seminar or through online self-study, with a self-administered examination.These titles facilitate sales person gaining investors’ trust  and enabling the sales persons to sell products and implement strategies that are not in the investors’ best interests.

Another common example is the recommendation of proprietary mutual funds (which often bear the name of the brokerage firm). There are often similar, less expensive index funds or other mutual funds available with higher expected returns. A fiduciary couldn’t recommend proprietary funds if they weren’t the best option. A broker has no such constraints and can do so with impunity.

How about this declaration ? Your goals are unique, and BMO Nesbitt Burns Investment Advisors are here to help you develop a plan that's right for your needs. Working with us you can expect open,trusted and transparent advice...  https://www.bmo.com/nesbittburns  Sounds like you'll be provided advice that is in your Best interests, eh?

A number of OBSI recommendation cases cases further illustrate the two-faced  issue . Equity Associates refused to compensate a retired couple in the amount of $83,386. After the couple sold their home, their advisor invested the proceeds in unsuitable medium-risk and high-risk mutual funds.Richardson GMP refused to compensate several investors in the amounts of $232,500 and $66,366. They entrusted their retirement savings to an advisor who ignored their investment objectives and risk tolerance.Armstrong & Quaile refused to compensate a retired couple for $34,000 after their advisor urged them to borrow to invest. They sold their investments after a market decline to cover a debt they could not afford to service.Monarch Wealth Corp refused to compensate a young couple, new to Canada, in the amount of $30,628. They borrowed to invest after being told by their advisor they would not incur any losses.Despite the Ombudsman's comprehensive independent complaint investigation, the dealers refused to accept accountability or provide restitution.

Other excuses that dealers use when responding to a client complaint include:
1. Blaming the investor- greedy , didn't pay attention to forms signed
2. Falsely claiming that because the account is a discretionary one, no duty of care is required
3. Wrongly asserting that the responsibility for determining suitability rests with the client 
4. Incorrectly asserting that ,even though the investments are unsuitable, the dealer is not accountable because risks were disclosed to the client
5. Refusing to accept responsibility if "advisor " has sold products off the books of the dealer . Sometimes dealers are willfully blind if a " producer" is harvesting a client and when things turn ugly claim that they knew nothing about the egregious behavior and are not accountable.

A recent example of the latter practice involves a case involving FUNDEX  Investments Inc. http://www.obsi.ca/images/Documents/IR/refusal/fundex_investigaton_mr_and_mrs_s.pdf . In that case FUNDEX  argued that they had not approved sale of the exempt market product and the client must have  known they were not dealing with FUNDEX. The OBSI complaint investigator found otherwise and recommended full restitution. The dealer refused and the victims must now decide if they wish to proceed with civil litigation  or walk away with a hard lesson on who they can trust. From the FUNDEX website we note: " Since 1995, FundEX Investments Inc. has been providing independent financial advisors with an established, fixed fee business model that enables them to access a wide variety of quality investment products to best meet the needs of Canadian Investors."

Brokers and insurance companies are fighting hard to avoid becoming fiduciaries. They are currently held to the lower “suitability” standard. This means they can recommend investment products that may not be the best option available to help you reach your financial goals, as long as they are “suitable.” CAVEAT EMPTOR!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.