Much has been said and written in the past year about the standards to which financial advisers are held, primarily due to the recent passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which included a provision requiring the SEC to study the oversight of brokers and registered investment advisers.

While there are many nuances to the oversight differential, it really boils down to one thing: RIAs are held to a fiduciary standard, required to act with undivided loyalty to the client, including disclosure of compensation methods and conflicts of interest; brokers are held to a suitability standard, requiring only that the broker's recommendations are suitable for the client's situation.

Quite a chasm, don't you think? I'd say a consumer of financial services deserves advice from someone who has their best interests at heart. (Full disclosure: In case you hadn't already guessed, I'm a fiduciary adviser.)

If the fiduciary standard were the only standard, it's possible the entire meltdown a couple of years ago, and the whole Great Recession, would never have happened.

This is not to say a broker is incapable of undivided loyalty to the client -- I'm sure many have that loyalty, even though it's not required. What is disturbing is the fact that the broker industry has been strongly opposing the fiduciary standard, arguing it will be costly to implement and leave certain lower-end consumers without an affordable choice. To brokers, "fidiuciary" really is the F word.

Wait a second ... does that mean that to serve lower-end consumers, the professional has to provide recommendations that are not in their best interests? What other compromises are there?

I realize the concept is legalistic mumbo-jumbo for most folks. And honestly, since the big money is on the side of the brokers and insurance companies, I don't expect for a true fiduciary standard to be applied to all advisers afterward.

But this is a law you can write on your own. If you agree the F word rocks -- that is, that a fiduciary standard makes sense to you -- you can take charge and require that all advisers you work with are held to it. This way, no matter what the SEC does, you're covered.

Generally speaking, the broker is paid to do one thing: sell financial products. If you're in the market for a financial product and you know what you want to buy, by all means go to a broker and buy it. But if you're looking for advice in your best interests, look for a fiduciary. That's what they're paid to provide.

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