June 17, 2017
When a fiduciary standard isn't always so

On June 9, the Department of Labor's Investment Advisor Fiduciary Rule finally went into effect after years of debate and intense Wall Street lobbying. Yet after all the time, money, and effort spent trying to improve the client experience, the big brokerage houses have once again proven: They just don't get it.

As we've surveyed the industry landscape, there are some major issues that clients need to be aware of regarding the DOL's new policy. Here are a few that come to mind:

First, the DOL standard doesn't apply to all assets; only to retirement assets. Own investments outside of your 401(k) or IRA? Too bad. No need for DOL fiduciary advisors to act in your best interest on those. Instead, they can continue to provide advice that follows the "suitability" standard, which has proven to be mostly meaningless.

Our thought: Shouldn't clients expect an advisor who acts in their best interest no matter what type of account(s) they hold? Why would anyone invest with an "advisor" who doesn't always act in a client's best interest?

Second, firms are still limiting the types of investments people can hold in their accounts, even if those investments make perfect sense for clients. Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch won't allow their brokers/advisors to purchase shares of Vanguard mutual funds in client accounts. Why not? "Gatekeepers like Morgan Stanley are using their muscle to protect their own revenue even as disrupters like Vanguard gather assets at a fast clip."

Our thought: Being an investment fiduciary means surveying the entire landscape of available investments and selecting the best of what's out there for your client, regardless of the effect on revenue. By excluding Vanguard (which attracted $315 billion in new assets in 2015 - more than all other fund companies combined) Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and others are requiring that their advisors ignore the largest, fastest growing, and perhaps most client-centric investment company in existence.

Third, firms seem to be acting as fiduciaries because they have to, not because they want to. Otherwise, wouldn't they have decided to abide by a fiduciary standard of care before the DOL required them to? Sorry to pick on Morgan Stanley, but their response to the rule is consistent with how most Wall Street firms responded: They still want to be able to offer high-cost, commission based investments to their clients, even though we know that " the expense ratio is the most proven predictor of future fund returns."

Our thought, from the Morgan Stanley page linked above: "In our view, maintaining client choice-in both the services provided and how they are paid for-should remain a critical goal of how we respond to the new rules." It's pretty incredible that they would claim to want to offer their clients' "choice" in their services, and yet not offer Vanguard mutual funds.

In 1968, the federal government started requiring seat belts in every automobile sold in the United States. At the time, seat belt usage was minimal, and the rule was controversial. Almost 50 years later, 90% of Americans buckle up every time they enter a vehicle.

Will it take 50 years for true fiduciary advice to be the rule, not the exception? Just as seat belts reduce the risk of injury in a car crash, true fiduciary advisors  increase the likelihood of success for ordinary people who are in need of good advice.

Because CAVU, and firms like ours, voluntarily subscribe to the idea that clients' interests should always come first, in all types of accounts, our differentiating factors haven't changed:
  • We provide honest advice to give our clients the best possible chance of reaching their goals, no mattewhat type of account they hold.
  • Our clients are the only ones who compensate us. We never take any form of payment from any third party for any reason.
  • Our investment approach is derived from research done over many decades at some of the most respected institutions of higher learning.

The fiduciary standard is a step in the right direction for our industry and for clients. While the "fiduciary" title is now being used by advisors that never used it before, we've still got a long way to go for all clients to receive the kind of advice they deserve.

The CAVU Team
David Sylvester, CFA, CFP®                                 
Founding Principal    

Nick Foy, CFP® 
Portfolio Manager             

Hilary Disher, CPA (non-active)
Tax Strategist

Plan well.  Invest Wisely.  Live Richly.
CAVU Wealth Advisors LLC