Your stockbroker cares about you. He is concerned that you save enough for retirement. He's thrilled when your kid graduates from college.
And why wouldn't he be? You and your broker are like family, aren't you?
And then, after spending millions to spin an impression that the customer is Number One, those same firms spend millions more on lawyers who fight to be sure they have no such obligation.
The latest round of Wall Street's "We love you, we love you not" routine is being played out in a battle over the obligations of investment professionals who make money giving you retirement advice.
In a proposal in April that has the financial industry foaming at the mouth, the Department of Labor said that anyone who gives out advice about investing in a 401(k) or IRA should put the customer's interest ahead of their own.
If you've been taken in by the propaganda that casts stockbrokers as benevolent custodians, you might think that's how things work already. But you'd be wrong.
Today, there are two standards. Stockbrokers are only obligated to sell you an investment that is "suitable." So if growth mutual funds are an appropriate vehicle for you, a broker can get away with picking the one that lags its competitors in performance and puts the heftiest fees in his pocket.
Investment advisors, who operate under stricter regulations, have to put your interest first. That mega-fee, tepid-performing growth fund wouldn't pass muster under what's known as the "fiduciary" standard.
For the record, investment advisors are just as capable of fleecing clients as brokers are. The difference: get ripped off by an advisor, and you have a stronger case when you go to arbitration or court. And that's the real reason Wall Street runs from the fiduciary standard like a vampire from daylight.
To obstruct investors' ability to discern the fiduciaries from the salespeople, Wall Street years ago stopped calling its investment-peddlers "stockbrokers." The word "broker" might imply that Wall Street's professionals had talents akin to those of car salesmen. Better to rebrand them with the name that fiduciaries used: advisors.