In a recent survey, 89.7% of investors told us they did not want sales reps investing their assets. They prefer financial planners or financial advisors. Why? Reps are paid one-time commissions to sell products. They are not paid continuous fees, like financial planners and financial advisors, to help investors achieve their financial goals.
Wall Street has a big marketing problem – 80% of its sales force is reps. Its solution is to spend massive amounts of money on advertising, lobbyists, and sales tactics that create investor confusion. This is the same strategy that big tobacco used to confuse consumers about the health hazards of smoking. And both industries have the same motivation – protect companies’ revenues at all costs.
Our goal at Paladin (www.PaladinRegistry.com) is to provide free tools, processes, and information to investors who rely on firms and professionals to help them achieve their financial goals. Our tools and information offset many of the deceptive sales tactics that are used by Wall Street firms and reps.
I decided to write this article when several confused investors asked me the same question: “Is it legal for sales reps to call themselves financial advisors?” Deception is supposed to be illegal, right? Read on to learn more about protecting your financial interests. It only takes a few minutes. The information is free. The knowledge in the article can help you avoid major mistakes.
There are clear-cut differences between sales representatives and real financial advisors:
- Sales reps sell investment products for commissions
- Financial advisors are fiduciaries who provide financial advice and ongoing services for fees
How can this be confusing when the differences are black and white?
FINRA is the main regulatory agency for broker/dealers and sales representatives who hold securities licenses. It is called an SRO (Self Regulatory Agency) that is controlled by the financial service industry. Yes, the industry regulates itself.
My quest for an answer started on FINRA’s BrokerCheck hotline. I was told FINRA regulated professionals with securities licenses, but was not responsible for RIAs and IARs. He suggested I talk to another department that was more familiar with FINRA regulations.
Unfortunately, that department also could not answer my question so I was referred to FINRA’s Department of Investor Education. This person not only did not know the answer, after putting me on hold for 12 minutes to check with other FINRA employees, he referred me to the SEC.
The SEC’s Non-Response
Most investors would have given up about now, but I decided to continue so I called the SEC. I talked to two people who said they did not know what sales reps could or could not call themselves because they regulated firms and not reps – that was FINRA’s job. When I said FINRA did not know the answer, he suggested I contact my state’s Securities Commissioner.
State Securities Commissioner
My last stop was the State of California where I reside. I was told a financial advisor was a professional who had Series 7 and 65 licenses and was registered with the state if the advisor’s firm had less than $100 million of AUM (Assets Under Management). The SEC regulated firms with more than $100 million of AUM and I should be talking to them.
Licensing, registration, and AUM were blurred together in a way that made no sense.
As a last resort I was routed to regulations on the State’s website. It said an advisor is anyone who provided advice for compensation. It did not distinguish between financial advice and sales recommendations that produced commission income for reps and fee income for financial advisors.
It appears anyone can call themselves financial advisors regardless of licensing, registrations, services, or method of compensation. Investors are on their own, which is just the way Wall Street likes it.
What is the Solution?
It is crystal clear. It is the investor’s responsibility to ask the right questions and know good answers from bad ones. Paladin’s One Page Research can be the critical difference.
One Page Research
Investors need data so they can make informed choices. The data has to be controlled by investors and not sales reps or financial advisors. And, there has to be documentation so there is a written record of what was communicated to investors by reps and financial advisors.
I call it one page research. The questions and responses have to fit on one page. The ideal responses are Yes. All reps and advisors are asked the same questions so it is easy to compare their responses. You receive written responses so you have a permanent record.
Advice & Ongoing Services
Advisor registrations permit them to provide financial advice and ongoing services. Rep licensing permits them to make investment recommendations when they sell financial products.
Question: Do you provide financial advice and ongoing services, for example, performance measurement? Yes or No?
Licensing & Registration
Real advisors are RIAs (Registered Investment Advisors) or IARs (Investment Advisor Representatives). These registrations permit them to provide advice and ongoing services for fees. Reps hold securities licenses (Series 6, Series 7). These licenses permit them to sell investment products for commission.
Question: Are you registered as an RIA (have your own firm) or an IAR (work for an RIA)? Yes or No?
Real advisors are financial fiduciaries (a person who holds a position of trust). Fiduciaries are held to the highest ethical standards in the financial service industry. Sales reps are not fiduciaries and they are held too much lower ethical standards.
Question: Do you acknowledge in writing you are a fiduciary when you provide financial advice and services? Yes or No?
Reps are paid commission by third parties to sell investment products. Advisors are paid fees for financial advice and ongoing services.
Question: Are you paid fees for your knowledge, advice, and services? Yes or No?
Any “No” responses means you are researching a sales representative, not a real financial advisor. You do not want a sales representative investing your assets.
Refusals to Respond
Any rep or advisor who refuses to respond is automatically excluded from your search process. You do not have to know what they are withholding or why. You just have to know withheld information is unacceptable when a rep or advisor wants to influence or control investment decisions that impact when you retire and how you live during retirement.