SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (MainStreet) -- Investors may begin to get a clearer accounting of the fees that they pay their brokers -- if their securities firms choose to sign on to a new, voluntary proposal.
At the annual meeting of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) here on Sunday, a working group of regulators and industry representatives unveiled a model document for brokers to use to explain the fees they charge for everything from wire transfers to IRA maintenance fees and legal transfer fees.
Investors would be better able to understand the charges they pay and to compare one firm's fees to another's in a standardized format, according to NASAA officials.
The suggested format for the so-called "Schedule of Miscellaneous Account and Service Fees" would include all fees except those for commissions, markups and advisory services. Firms are expected to define what they mean if the name of a fee doesn't make its purpose obvious.
NASAA is an organization of state securities regulators in the United States as well as regulators in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and Mexico.
The working group included representatives of Wall Street's self-regulatory organization, Finra; LPL Financial LLC; and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. LPL, Morgan Stanley, Prospera Financial Services and Signator Investors Inc. are in the process of implementing the model fee disclosure, according to a handout provided by NASAA.
In spring of 2014, NASAA released a survey that showed a wide variation in the ways that brokerage firms disclose their fees.
There was no telling where an investor might learn what a firm's fees were, according to NASAA. Some firms included the information with account statements, others in booklets and mailings; still others provided it in narrative format. The disclosures were as short as one paragraph and as long as seven pages. In one case, a firm gave its fee disclosures beginning on page 18 of a 24-page customer account agreement, NASAA said.
In another, a brokerage firm charged customers $500 if they asked to receive their securities in certificate form even though it cost the broker only $60 to get the certificates from a clearing firm.
In April, NASAA released a survey of 1,072 Americans who were confused about the service and maintenance fees that their brokers charged. Although firms routinely charge fees, nearly a third of investors said their firm had no such charges, according to the survey.
Kimberly Chamberlain, associate generalcCounsel for the Wall Street lobbying group SIFMA and a member of the working group, said that her organization is "encouraging firms" to use the new format.