NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- To get an idea of the alternate universe in which some firms on Wall Street orbit, consider the letter that Andrew Heath, chief compliance officer of Shrewsbury, N.J.-based Buckman Buckman & Reid Inc., sent to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority last June.
Heath was writing to voice "strong opposition" to a proposal that brokerage firms include a hyperlink on their home pages that would take customers to Finra's BrokerCheck, where the public can find complaint and regulatory information about stockbrokers and their employers.
"There are many unscrupulous investors out there in the marketplace who will stop at nothing to extort money from brokers or their employer firms," Heath wrote.
You read that right. Unscrupulous investors. Taking advantage of innocent brokers. And to think that some of us were worried that it was dear old Aunt Matilda who was getting snookered by Wall Street's army of salespeople.
Finra wound up recommending to the Securities and Exchange Commission on May 27 that firms provide a BrokerCheck link on their home pages anyway, and -- Heath's indignation notwithstanding -- it was a coup for Wall Street that Finra didn't demand more. The securities industry fights hard to keep as much distance as it can between its customers and the dirt on its problematic brokers, and it came out a winner in this most recent row.
Finra initially had proposed that firms provide direct links to the records of individual brokers when investors came across their names on brokerage firm Web sites, which would have made it easy for the public to discover any wrongdoing with a single click.
But that pro-consumer suggestion inspired an industry-wide temper tantrum, prompting the watered-down plan to require links only to the main page of BrokerCheck, where customers could search for records on their own.
Try typing in a name like "John Smith" and figuring out which guy on the list is the one who's been pitching you real estate investment trusts.
Andrea Seidt, the Ohio state securities commissioner, said it's disappointing that Finra dropped the proposal for so-called "deep links" because it could have provided a balance to the "snazzy firm marketing touting an individual broker" that investors are exposed to.
Finra spokeswoman Michelle Ong told me in an email that the public made nearly 19 million searches on BrokerCheck last year, which at first blush might give the impression that investors already are savvy to doing their homework.
But when I asked for a breakdown of who made all those searches, Ong replied, "There is no way to tell." Lawyers, journalists, investors and regulators are among the many groups who use BrokerCheck regularly, and so it's anyone's guess how many were done by mom-and-pop investors.
Research suggests, though, that mom and pop aren't typically using BrokerCheck or anything else to check on their advisers.