Consumer Groups Accuse SEC of Not Protecting Retail Investors and Poorly Regulating Investment Advisers

A letter to the SEC from consumer groups claims that the agency is not meeting its obligation to make sure that retail investors are getting the protections they need. The Consumer Federation of America, Americans for Financial Reform, Fund Democracy, Consumer Action, Public Citizen, and AFL-CIO gave an outline of how they want the regulator to enhance financial adviser regulation, which they believe could be more robust.

They are calling on the Commission to execute “concrete steps” to up the standards bar for brokers when it comes to giving investment advice. For right now, brokers only have to recommend investments that in general are a fit for the clients’ investment goals and risk tolerance level, even as investment advisers must abide by a fiduciary obligation.

The letter from the groups also talks about improving financial adviser disclosure in regards to compensation and conflicts, reforming the sharing of revenue, placing limits to mandatory arbitration for disputes between investors and their financial representatives, strengthening regulations for high-risk financial products, and enhancing required disclosures from financial advisers to investors about financial products.

The Dodd-Frank Act Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act authorized the SEC to put into effect one fiduciary standard that would be applicable for both investment and retail advice, obligating every financial adviser to make sure their actions take clients’ best interests into account. This is a mandate that the agency has yet to act upon, even as the U.S. Labor Department is preparing to re-propose a fiduciary duty rule involving advice for retirement accounts.

However, the regulator has had a lot to deal with in regards to rulemaking ever since Dodd-Frank went to effect, making certain mandates that the agency has been required to execute. Now, the consumer groups want the Commission to focus once more on retail investors to make sure they are properly protected.

The reason for a push for a fiduciary rule for brokers is that there is concern that because these representatives get compensation from mutual funds and other companies for pushing their products, investors’ best interests may not be getting served. According to White House economists, reports Bloomberg, investors may be losing up to $17 billion annually because they invested in products that their brokers recommended.

A lot of Republicans and business groups claim that the SEC, not the DOL, should be the one to come up with the regulations first. They believe that rules by the Labor Department would only make the situation confusing while limiting a brokers’ ability to work with smaller investor clients.

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Read the Letter (PDF)

A Split Over Protecting Investors, Bloomberg, March 12, 2015