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SEC Recommends "Universal Fiduciary Duty"

Late Friday night, the SEC submitted a report to Congress that recommended the fiduciary standard of care be expanded to include any financial professional that provides personalized investment advice to retail customers. The "universal fiduciary duty" recommended by the SEC would supersede the "suitability standard" currently applied to broker-dealers. The change, a hot topic of debate in the industry, would likely mean increased protection for investors, many of whom don't understand the difference between the two standards. The SEC report was issued after the conclusion of a study mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which gives the SEC the power to write and implement a "universal fiduciary duty" rule. Since the passage of the financial reform law, debate has raged over whether the SEC would actually decide to recommend changes to the standards that affect broker-dealers. Even now, with the recommendation finally submitted to Congress, the controversy continues over whether the changes will (or even should) actually take place. Two commissioners, Kathleen Casey and Troy Paredes, have expressed reservations about the SEC's recommendation. The article quoted a statement written by the commissioners that read: "The study should be viewed as a starting point for further research and consideration, rather than as forming the primary basis for rule making." According to the statement, Casey and Paredes are neither convinced that the two different standards "systematically" harm investors nor "that a uniform standard or harmonization would enhance investor protection." Many disagree with the commissioners and want the SEC to write and adopt the new uniform rules quickly. The continued (and heated) debate makes it clear that even though the SEC's recommendation is a step forward in the long road toward the implementation of a universal standard, it is only one step of many.

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