Advisors are split on the fiduciary debate, although many favor it, on paper at least.

Some 37% of respondents to BIC’s financial planning survey say that anyone recommending an investment should be held to a fiduciary standard, while 35% say that’s true only if the advisor charges an ongoing fee for investment advice. However, one-fourth of advisors claim that they already act in their clients’ best interests and think that any additional regulations would be unnecessary.

However, should the Securities and Exchange Commission decide to extend the tenets of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (which requires registered investment advisors (RIAs) to put the interests of clients before their own, while FINRA-regulated brokers only have to ensure their recommendations are suitable to a client’s situation) over half of advisors, 56%, say their standards of practice would be compliant with the tougher standard.

Not all advisors are so cocksure, though; 17% say that while they would be considered compliant under a blanket fiduciary standard, they can’t say the same for everyone they work with. Nine percent worry that their banks are already struggling to meet the cost of snowballing compliance requirements, and adding another paper trail to the pile would just make it worse. Nonetheless 17% of advisors agree that a fiduciary standard is inevitable so banks may as well get ready for it—it’s what clients are looking for, and for any advisor worth his or her salt, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch.

Over half of respondents (54%) routinely provide their clients with an investment policy statement whether the client wants a financial plan or not, while 36% of advisors will do so when a client asks for one. Writing expectations down on paper seems a good practice, especially in light of market volatility over the past couple of years.

Most advisors who provide financial plans benefited from doing so when the economy tanked, finding it easier to calm clients with financial plans. Three-fourths (76%) of advisors were able to use financial plans to remind their clients that they’re still on track to meet their long-term goals or to show them that those plans at least weren’t ruined by the market crisis of 2008. Only 12% of advisors say clients were equally angry whether or not they had had a full financial plan.

For more information on BIC’s financial planning survey findings, read the cover story in the October issue.

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