Enjoy the current installment of “weekend reading for financial planners” – this week’s edition kicks off with the big news that Fidelity has launched an entirely free index mutual fund, with an outright expense ratio of 0.0%, in what financially is only a modest decrease in cost from the near-zero expense ratios of many index funds already, but represents a major shift in the industry as asset managers officially begin to focus on generating revenue beyond “just” their investment products alone. Also in the news this week was an announcement that the Trump administration is considering a proposal that would index cost basis to inflation over time, effectively applying capital gains on only “real” gains (above inflation), in what would potentially be a game-changer for the relative value of taxable accounts over tax-preferenced retirement accounts (that would have no such basis adjustment).
Also in the news this week were a number of major industry announcements, including that the CFP Board will be launching a series of public forums over the next 18 months to train CFP professionals on the new Standards of Conduct (and gather feedback on where the Standards Resource Commission should issue additional guidance), the Financial Planning Association announces a newly updated “Primary Aim” for the organization with an increased focus on advocacy for the profession, and the latest FA Insight study shows that advisory firms continue to enjoy strong growth in the midst of an ongoing bull market but that profit margins continue to decline (now to an average of just 20%) as pressure rises on firms to reinvest in their value proposition to justify their fees (which are now also beginning to show signs of competition and compression).
From there, we have a number of regulatory articles, including a surprising SEC action against Schwab Advisor Services that may put newfound pressure on RIA custodians to have a more active role policing the RIAs that use their services (particularly with respect to anti-money laundering regulations), some new guidance from the SEC on what constitutes ‘inadvertent’ custody for which the RIA will not be punished for failing to adhere to the Custody Rule, legal risks to consider for advisors who are publishing content (e.g., blogs or newsletters) and don’t want to get in trouble for plagiarism or copyright violations, and a look at just how far the CFP Board’s fiduciary regulations have come in the past 11 years (and where they may go from here).
We wrap up with three interesting articles, all around the role and value of financial advisors in the eyes of consumers: the first is a fascinating look at what leads consumers to switch financial advisors, finding that changes in personal or financial circumstances (from divorce or marriage to significant increases in income or net worth) are most likely to cause a consumer to switch advisors (despite the fact those are often the “money in motion” triggers that cause clients to become more profitable for their existing advisor!); the second looks at how financial planning as a profession has evolved over the past 45 years since the first class of CFP certificants in 1973; and the last looks at new research on the value of financial designations themselves, finding that consumers with higher incomes and investable assets really do tend to pay more to advisors who have such professional designations!
Enjoy the “light” reading!