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SEC Urges Uniform Fiduciary Duty For Brokers and Advisers

U.S. securities regulators on Friday called for a new uniform fiduciary standard for broker-dealers and investment advisers that would require them to put retail customers ahead of their own financial interests. The recommendations, laid out by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a study reviewed by Reuters late on Friday, would drastically alter the landscape for broker-dealers who under current laws are only required to recommend products that are “suitable” to mom-and-pop investors.

It could also potentially mean changes for investment advisers if the SEC opts to replace their fiduciary standard with a new one, although the study says it would be “no less stringent” than what they face today.

Under today’s standard, advisers must act in a client’s best interest. The study was required under the Dodd-Frank financial law, and its findings are likely to help shape future rule-making at the agency. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro has long called for harmonizing regulations between brokers and advisers who offer retail customers advice, saying investors may not know the difference between those acting in their best interest and those who are just peddling products.

But both Republican commissioners issued a harsh critique of the study on Friday, saying it failed to provide evidence that investors are “being systemically harmed or disadvantaged”. They also questioned if a uniform standard would eliminate any investor confusion.