Am I a Fiduciary?
A common question recently, perhaps due to a lot more commercials and ads lately touting other investment firms is “Are you a fiduciary?” The answer is yes, and I have been in all dealings since 2004. Recent regulations impose many of the responsibilities of a fiduciary on even more financial professionals, but there are still many out there that do not have a fiduciary duty.
What is a fiduciary? For someone to have a fiduciary duty is to have “an obligation of loyalty and good faith” to another – the principal or beneficiary (the client in our case.) Put simply – this means to put their best interests ahead of our own.
I currently serve as a fiduciary in two capacities:
- As an investment advisor representative – when serving as an advisor on either a fee-based investment account or on an hourly consulting relationship, I have a fiduciary duty. This is a condition of my license from FINRA – Series 65.
- As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, I commit to act as a fiduciary in ALL client interactions. This commitment includes a duty of loyalty, a duty of care, and a duty to follow client instructions. I make this commitment to the CFP® Board, which may sanction me (including revoking my right to use the CFP® designation) if I am found to have failed this responsibility. I have made this commitment since being awarded the CFP® designation on January 20, 2004. You can read more about these duties at https://www.letsmakeaplan.org/how-to-choose-a-planner/fiduciary-duty-your-interests-should-come-first
All that said – most dealings with any licensed investment advisor have at least a partial fiduciary duty today. Regulation Best Interest (BI) was put into law by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2019 and requires broker-dealer representatives to act in the client’s best interest on all transactions and disclose any conflicts of interest. While not quite as complete as a legal fiduciary duty, it is certainly similar. This is in contrast to the prior broker standard – called the “suitability standard” that only required that recommended transactions be suitable – or appropriate for a client based on risk and financial needs and goals – but NOT necessarily the “best” investment. Under that prior standard an investment could be favored over another for reasons such as commission amount – as long as it was still an appropriate investment. A fiduciary or even the “Best Interest” standard does not allow this – we must be able to argue why any recommended investment is not only appropriate, but the best choice. An investment advisor relationship however aligns the financial compensation to be clearly aligned with this as my compensation is then tied directly to account value – not various commissions on different products.
It is of note that while these standards apply to SEC or FINRA licensed advisors – they do not apply to all financial professionals. An insurance agent for example is completely free to recommend specific policies favored due to higher commissions or very commonly – incentive awards for meeting sales goals with a specific company (I get emails like this promising trips all the time!!) This may apply to life insurance, auto/home, Medicare and fixed and equity index annuities. It is of note – that while we may sell these products – my CFP® designation requires me to act in a fiduciary manner in ALL client interactions. As an independent agency, we ALWAYS compare all available policies and will present alternatives for clients with price being a primary driver of recommendations. I can honestly say that our current licensed insurance agents (myself included) do not even know or see most commission amounts – our office manager handles the books and commission tracking. Regardless, it is a longstanding business policy to always put client interests first – and commission will NEVER be a factor in any recommendations that come from our office. Our clients’ trust is something that will never be compromised – you can always rest assured that your best interest is ALWAYS foremost in our minds.
Ryan R. Roloff, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®, CMFC®, NSSA®
President, Financial Advisor