Legislation Proposed to Regulate Financial Advisors

With almost a year having passed by since the US market hit its lowest point in the financial crisis of the past eighteen months or so, investors remain on their guard. Although the US economy is showing signs of recovery, progress is frustratingly slow, and appears set to continue that way at least for the coming few months. Last week’s economy-based news revealed that the momentum of job losses is slowing down, which had a positive effect on the market. However, concerns about the debt crisis in Europe, more specifically in Greece, along with indications that the US housing market is still in a slump, and China’s initiatives to put the brakes on its booming economy, are reason enough for investors to err on the side of caution.

Congress continues to mull over the issue of setting new standards for financial advisors, and all similar labels for those who provide investment advice. Proponents of this move are beginning to doubt that it will emerge as legislation focused on protecting American investors, who are often not able to identify where their advisor’s loyalties and motivations lie. One of the factors in investment decision making is the matter of commissions paid to advisors. Generally commissions are paid to brokers and advisors for each transaction that takes place – no transactions, no commission, whereas multiple transactions adds up to plenty of money. Commissions are either paid by the investor or by the company whose product the advisor is selling, or sometimes even both.

The limits of self-serving practices by advisors, and level of disclosure to investors are somewhat fuzzy, with many investors not having a clear understanding of their rights. The financial protection legislation addresses these issues by setting standards in the best interests of investors, by which advisors and brokers (often interchangeable terms) must abide. Observers are concerned that the Senate Banking Committee, under the leadership of Chris Dodd, is dragging its heels with regard to passing legislation. There is speculation that the Committee is entertaining the idea of setting the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the task of conducting a study of current regulations over the next eighteen months, with a view to proposing changes. Furthermore, there have been reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which would have been an independent supervisory body, is likely to be included under the umbrella of the Federal Reserve, which has a dismal record of protecting individuals. To many in the know, this does not bode well for protecting the interests of consumers and investors, who are, after all, significant contributors to the economy.