If the fund management industry thinks it's gotten away scot-free on the Dodd-Frank financial regulation reform bill-and several senior fund executives went on the record last week to say it has no impact-the industry's got another thing coming.
The new law makes clear that all financial services selling agents, investment advisors and 401(k) plan sponsors alike, will be held to higher, consistent fiduciary standards.
That means fees will have to be disclosed more clearly upfront-in crystal-clear plain English. Dollars and cents would be nice, too.
The new fiduciary standards also mean fund management sales agents will have to perform further due diligence on the appropriateness of funds, securities and annuities selections for investors.
That also means-perhaps in the most importance sense of the word "fiduciary"-that the buck finally stops.
Where does the buck stop, exactly?
With the product manufacturers, the wholesalers, national accounts teams and corresponding broker/dealer gatekeepers and sales desks. With the 401(k), 529 and health savings account plan sponsors, education and advice providers; plan, pension and benefits consultants; fund administration platforms; investment advisors and state treasurers.
Foremost, among the sales channels, the responsibility to uphold the new fiduciary standards lies with the 635,000 U.S. registered reps who serve millions of Americans, according to the latest FINRA data. As well, there are 400,000 financial advisers, insurance agents and RIAs, who also serve the same.
Finally, at its most crystallized and critical juncture, the new fiduciary standards must be supported through robust software and data management interconnectivity between fund companies and brokers, as well as the back-office transactional systems supporting them.
Where do we go from here?
The best thing the mutual fund, separately managed account, hedge fund and retirement income industries can collectively do to uphold the fiduciary standard is to tell investors that, indeed, shareholders come first.
The fund industry can do this by collectively working within each individual company and across competitive boundary lines to tell the American public that, yes, it was not not the genesis of the financial crisis, recession, job and wealth loss.
Then, by adhering to the higest of fiduciary standards, demonstrate to its customers that it is on their side and fully committed to do right by them and their investments.