The Securities and Exchange Commission is promising to take another look at revising or eliminating 12b-1 fees this year, now that the financial crisis seems to be abating.
"I hope that 12b-1 fees stop being one of these perennial issues," said Andrew "Buddy" Donohue, associate director of the division of investment management at the SEC, at a recent investment conference in Phoenix. "We're going to be addressing them again soon."
Donohue said the SEC staff has been working on several changes for a number of years that include turning the fees into a sales load charge, but their efforts were moved to the back burner in 2008.
The mutual fund industry collected approximately $9.5 billion through 12b-1 fees in 2009, according to new data from the Investment Company Institute.
The fees—which are used to offset a variety of expenses including advertising, broker's commissions and sales and marketing costs—is equal to about 18% of all fund expenses, not counting sales charges, or about $2 for every $1,000 invested.
A 2005 study by the ICI found that about 40% of 12b-1 fees went to pay advisers for initial sales, while approximately 52% of the fees were being used by fund companies to provide ongoing support to clients. The ICI says eliminating 12b-1 fees would get rid of any incentives advisers have to provide clients with investment advice.
"The vast majority of 12b-1 fees are for compensating advisers for services they provide, and investors want," said ICI Chief Economist Brian Reid.
However, financial advisers and critics of the investment management industry are increasingly calling investors’ attention to the fees.