If a new study is an accurate indication of what the investment management industry will look like in a decade, investors are poised to benefit.
Released by the CFA Institute, “Future State of the Investment Profession” shows that the trends influencing how money managers and financial advisors run their businesses are pushing them toward a more ethical, value-oriented and socially responsible profession over the next five to 10 years.
Advisors “need to become customer-focused,” said Robert Stammers, director of investor engagement for the CFA Institute’s Future of Finance team and one of the study’s authors. “They need to change from trying to beat the market to … focusing on how they meet client objectives and create better outcomes for investors.”
Some of the forces reshaping the landscape range from regulatory and technology-related changes to shifting demographics and investor preferences.
The study surveyed 1,145 leaders in the investment industry around the world. Only 11 percent of respondents said their industry has a “very positive” impact on society. But 51 percent said if stronger principals were existent, there would be a very positive societal impact.
The public, too, sees room for improvement. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the public’s trust in the broader U.S. financial services industry stands at just 54 percent. While higher than the 36 percent recorded in 2009 following the financial crisis, it remains lower than the pre-crisis figure of 69 percent.
For financial advisors, much of the ethics picture focuses on whether they are required to put their clients’ interests before their own when recommending investments. Such a “fiduciary standard” is viewed by many as more ethical than one of “suitability,” which only says an investment must be appropriate for a client.
Fiduciaries typically are paid via service fees, while suitability adherents typically are paid in commissions. In simple terms, the difference in standards is dictated by exactly how they are regulated.
While the Labor Department under the Obama administration jumped into the fray by adopting the so-called fiduciary rule — which requires advisors to act in their client’s best interest, specifically with retirement accounts — the start date for the new regulation has been delayed until June 9 while parts of it are under review.
Regardless of the rule’s fate, the industry is continuing to move toward a fiduciary environment more earnestly than it had before the rule passed in 2016. To some degree, peer pressure and client inquiries — due to greater public awareness — have contributed to the shift.
David Hays, president of Comprehensive Financial Consultants, said that in some of the advisor circles he moves in, non-fiduciaries are given less respect.
“If you aren’t a fiduciary, you are kind of looked down upon,” said Hays, who is a fiduciary but was not when he started his career more than two decades ago. “It’s peer pressure that if you aren’t one, you [had] better become one.”
He also said that among new clients, awareness of the role of a fiduciary is growing.