Edward Siedle questions the integrity of some CFA charterholders in “Investors Misled By Brokers Masquerading As Fiduciaries: CFA credential implies a standard of care not always upheld,“ an August 9 “Expert View” on Forbes.com. Siedle is a former SEC attorney and the president of Benchmark Financial Services.
While I think Siedle overstates his case, he raises an interesting point.
Suitability standard vs. fiduciary duty
His basic argument: If CFA charterholders work for broker-dealers, they’re bound to a standard of suitability, rather than fiduciary duty. This is a conflict I hadn’t thought about before reading his article.
Apparently many brokerage firms handle the potential conflict by forbidding use of the CFA credential by those who use the suitability standard.
Siedle quotes Robert Dannhauser, the CFA Institute’s director of advocacy outreach. Dannhauser says, “…in many such instances, the firms do not allow CFA charterholders to display the CFA designation after their name on business cards or other publicly available material, so that clients do not perceive any different standard than what the firm has adopted for all of its employees. This hopefully offers clients a clearer view of what they’re getting. The key is for practitioners to not represent themselves as one thing but offer a different level of service than might otherwise be expected given that representation.”
Siedle counters by saying, “However, in my experience, many brokers do use their CFA status in marketing themselves to investors–especially to institutional and high-net-worth investors who are most likely to be familiar with the designation.” Moreover, “Unfortunately, it’s only after the retail broker dressed up like a fiduciary screws up that the investor might discover that he and his employer do not accept a fiduciary standard of duty.” I don’t know the details of the case that Siedle uses as an example.
Siedle seems to imply that every charterholder who works for a company such as Bank of America works for a broker-dealer. This is an exaggeration. The companies he names are not pure broker-dealers. Many of the charterholders at these firms may work for registered investment advisors that explicitly require them to act as fiduciaries.
Challenge for the CFA Institute’s ethics curriculum
Still, I’d be curious to know if the conflict between fiduciary duty and the suitability standard comes up in the CFA Institute’s ethics curriculum. If not, it sounds like a good topic for the future. As a CFA charterholder myself, I feel confident that the CFA Institute will tackle this issue.