Whenever the enemies of a strict fiduciary standard offer their helpful advice to the SEC or the Department of Labor or testify before Congress, they make a curious argument. If the regulators require them to live up to a principles-based standard of care, they say, then they would no longer be able to "afford" to serve the millions of people who don't have large investment portfolios - and those poor middle-income citizens would be stranded in a world where nobody is willing to provide them advice.

You can read through some of the latest testimony at the SEC website. After surveying its members, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors reports that almost half of its members (that is, insurance agents) would stop working with less-wealthy clients if they were required to act as fiduciaries. Meanwhile, the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting (which represents successful insurance agents and managers) says that if a fiduciary duty were imposed on its members, it "could potentially affect their relationship with, and their ability to serve, their customers."

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