The Securities Industry Association (SIA) last week reiterated its support of the proposed rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would allow broker-dealers to offer fee-based brokerage accounts without those accounts being subjected to additional regulation under the Investment Advisors Act.
“By differentiating between the activities involved in servicing a brokerage account and an advisory account, the SEC continues its support of fee-based arrangements,” says SIA Vice President and Associate General Counsel Michael Udoff. “Broker-dealers should be able to offer these arrangements, which are becoming increasingly popular among investors, without the addition of another layer of regulation.”
The SIA says broker-dealers have increasingly offered customers the option to pay for their brokerage services, in whole or in part, through fees calculated based on the assets in the account. This was encouraged in a 1994 report by the Committee on Compensation Practices (“The Tully Committee”), which viewed this arrangement as a way to better align the interests of the clients and the brokers. These accounts are already subject to extensive regulations covering disclosure of conflicts of interest as well as requirements that the registered representative’s recommendations be in the best interests of the client.
“The fact that certain brokerage accounts involve payment of an asset-based fee rather than commission should not automatically require them to be regulated as advisory accounts,” says Udoff. “The additional regulation is a disincentive for firms to offer this arrangement and would limit investors’ choices in how they compensate their registered representative.”
SIA’s comment letter also responds to recent suggestions by the Financial Planners Association that registered representatives are subject to a lower regulatory standard than financial planners, or adoption of this rule would erode investor protection. “Both financial planners and registered representatives are held accountable for putting the interests of their clients first,” says Udoff. “The competition that exists today benefits investors by providing them with a wide range of options in the level of services they receive from their investment professional and how they pay for the services received. Elimination of the exemption for fee-based accounts from financial advisory oversight would stifle this and harm investors.”