Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Danger of Indifference and the Demise of the Fiduciary Standard

Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” - Mahatma Gandi

We find inspiration from quotes such as these. As Americans we adore those who accomplish great deeds, especially where they may be viewed as underdogs. We take inspiration from their successes.

And, through other quotes, we remind ourselves, on occasion, of America's greatness. We applaud our own devotion to liberty, freedom, capitalism, and democracy. We surmise, from time to time, that America has been hugely successful in the past, and that through the indomitable America spirit we have conquered huge obstacles which have threatened, from time to time, our liberties and - at times - America's very existence.

But we should not rest on our laurels, for it is not from without that America will fail. Rather, it is from our own indifference that we are likely to see our downfall. In this regard, I quote the great Abraham Lincoln: "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

There is currently underway a comprehensive campaign to deny Americans of the trusted financial and investment advice they so deserve. In recent decades Wall Street and the insurance companies have reaped the benefits of a massive extraction of rents from individual investors. Their high level of profits - and indeed their entire business model - is under attack. From the fiduciary standard.

How does Wall Street respond to the world's movement toward a new era of fiduciary capitalism? With a massive lobbying effort in opposition to same. Millions of dollars of campaign contributions. Secretive promises of future high-paying jobs for legislators, their aides, and even members of government agencies. Hundreds of visits by influence-peddlers to members of Congress, the SEC, the DOL, the Treasury Department, and many more.

Wall Street spins its tales of fictional woe wildly, yet effectively. Distortions of the truth abound. And, through concerted effort, Wall Street's conspirators seek to redefine the fiduciary standard as something far less.

As citizens of this great country, do we care about Wall Street's transgressions? Are we willing to sit by and idly permit the fiduciary standard, a primary restraint upon greed when there exists a great disparity in knowledge between advisor and client, to be recast as a lower standard? Are we willing to accept a "new federal fiduciary standard" - as promulgated by Wall Street - which permits, through mere casual disclosures of conflicts of interest, which disclosures are neither read nor understood by individual investors, abuse of our fellow citizens to continue to occur? Are we willing to accept that "fiduciary" will now only mean "suitability plus a little disclosure"? Are we willing to stand idly by when a centuries-old standard of conduct is eviscerated?

And, consequentially, are we also willing - via our own indifference - to deny for investment and financial advisors their collective future as a true profession, grounded upon service to the public interest and with devotion to a bona fide fiduciary standard?

The application of the fiduciary standard to the delivery of personal investment and financial advice is so very important - to the future of Americans, and of America itself. 

  • The adoption of the fiduciary standard of conduct for all providers of investment advice to individual investors and retirement plan sponsors will assist in restoring trust to our financial services industry, resulting in greater investment of capital by individual investors. As the cost of capital is lowered, this in turn will propel a new era of economic growth in our country, leading to new job creation and new opportunities for all.
  • Moreover, the adoption of the fiduciary standard is essential to our fellow Americans who are saving and investing for retirement. While Wall Street’s excessive rents will diminish under the application of the fiduciary standard of conduct, the fees and costs associated with retirement account investing will also diminish. Our fellow citizens will, as a result, possess a far greater balance in their retirement accounts in future years. This will come at a time when federal and state and local governments, constrained by debt, will be unable to provide additional services to those of our citizens who have failed to adequately save and invest for retirement. In essence, the application of the fiduciary standard of conduct will remove a future burden upon government, and lower tax rates in the future will be possible.
I submit to you that the fiduciary principle should not be compromised by the forces of Wall Street. It should not be recast as a form of the suitability standard. Rather, it must be upheld, for the sake of all Americans.

We must remember the words of another great American: “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” ― Thomas Jefferson

The fiduciary battles continue in Washington, D.C. The economic forces which oppose the true fiduciary standard are powerful and influential. Those who favor the fiduciary standard possess only logic and truth in making their voices known.

During these battles, it is important to possess grit. It is important to persevere. It is imperative to not be worn down by the delaying tactics of the opponents of the true fiduciary standard.

Only you can make a difference. Write to your U.S. Senators. Write to your U.S. Representative. Write to all five of the SEC Commissioners. Write to the Secretary of Labor. Support the bona fide fiduciary standard of conduct. Act now, not later.

Be a participant in our great democracy. Be heard. While it is still possible for the voice of professionals, and individual investors, to be heard. Share your stories - your own personal observations of the strength and benefits of the true fiduciary standard.

In this issue, your voice is important. But only if you choose to speak, to write, and be heard. Do not falter. Be heard.

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