Despite Reports of Customer Satisfaction, Consumer Reports Uncovers Questionable Sales Practices at Certain Financial Firms

According to Consumer Reports, many of online readers are “very satisfied” with the services rendered by almost all 13 major brokerage firms in the US. 7,327 online subscribers took part in the survey to respond to questions about their own experiences between October 2010 and October 2011. Customer service, website advice, phone service, and financial advice were among the criteria evaluated.

USAA Brokerage Services was at the head of the list after having received the highest scores for customer satisfaction. Scottrade Inc. and Vanguard Brokerage Services tied for second. The other financial firms, ranking in the order that follows, are Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Etrade, Fidelity Brokerage Services, WellsTrade (Wells Fargo), Merrill Edge/Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. The last three financial firms scored under the 80-point mark, which means that clients gave them an overall ranking of “fairly well satisfied” (but not “very satisfied”).

Also according to Consumer Reports, active investors can breathe a sigh of relief about the quality of support and service they are likely to receive at these large US brokerage firms. Several of the broker-dealers are even likely to offer investors free, basic investment plans. (That said, Consumer Reports warned that investors need to be aware that there are limitations to these kinds of plans in order to maximize any benefits.)

Despites such positive investor feedback, Consumer Reports says that its staff members, who acted as undercover researchers when they visited financial firms in New York and Washington, discovered that some broker-dealers continued to engage in questionable sales practices. For example:

• One staffer was shown a chart demonstrating a portfolio’s performance. However, the potential impact of key fees was not highlighted.
• Another staffer was guided toward a complex annuity product even though the financial adviser didn’t know a lot about her.
• One “empty nester” was directed toward a set of funds without being given any other options.
• Another tester, age 60, was advised to put half of his funds in cash and bonds even though he intended to retire in a year and had about a million dollars in investible assets, as well as a significant pension.

As an investor, you should be able to rely on the brokerage firm you work with for sound, customized advice that fits your specific investment needs. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and every year, there are those that will suffer unnecessary financial losses because they were told to place their funds in investments that were inappropriate for them or were never designed to meet their financial goals, or they were given insufficient information about the degree of risk involved (which they could never have afforded in the first place.)

Consumer Reports: Should brokerage clients be as content as they are?, Consumer Reports, January 5, 2012
Where to put your money, Consumer Reports, February 2012

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Former Brookstreet Securities Broker Who Promoted Subprime Mortgages Commits Suicide, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, January 7, 2012
Securities and Exchange Commission Charges Investment Adviser with Committing Securities Fraud on Linked In, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, January 6, 2012
Texas Securities Fraud: SEC Charges Life Partners Holdings Inc. in Life Settlement Scam, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, January 4, 2012
At Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD, LLP, our securities fraud lawyers are here to help investors recover such losses.

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