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1 Financial products are sold, not bought. This is the reason that commission-based sales forces will always be the foundation of the financial services industry. Financial firms know that if their product is sold by a qualified salesperson, and the sales relationship is nurtured, the investor is much more likely to hold on to the product for the long haul (and thus pay more fees to the firm). It is cheaper to keep the customers that you have than to go and find new ones, so maintaining a sales force to service customer relationships is critical to the success of the industry. Consumers purchase financial products because they trust the salesperson who recommends them. The sales culture of the financial services industry and human nature can lead to abuse and unsuitable product recommendations. This drives the need for well-informed legal counsel to protect consumers who have entrusted the wrong product salesman with their financial future. Most financial products are commission-based. This does not make them bad. Not many people are qualified to design or choose the optimal insurance product to meet their individual needs. I don t mind paying my insurance agent a commission to help me to choose the right product to ensure that my family is taken care of if I am disabled or if I die. He is offering me a service that deserves fair compensation. But it is human nature to abhor being sold. No one likes to be manipulated, and the traditional product-driven, commission-based sales culture that permeates the financial services industry does not always serve the best interests of the consumer. As consumers became more educated and less inclined to be sold financial products, there has been a transformation in the financial services industry. All of the sudden, there are no more stockbrokers or insurance agents. Financial product salespeople have evolved into Vice Presidents, Financial Consultants, Estate Planning Specialists, Financial Planners, and all manner of intriguing and captivating titles denoting trustworthiness, wisdom, experience and financial acumen. These titles are meant to boost professional credibility, and to provide consumers with confidence that they are being advised rather than sold, which may or may not be reality. The vast majority of financial advisors are commission-based registered representatives. These professionals include stockbrokers, insurance agents, and most financial planners. The term registered representative signifies that they are agents of their broker-dealers and as such, are licensed with the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). Securities licenses authorize registered representatives to receive commissions for the sale of financial products. Common securities licenses include the Series 6 (to sell mutual funds and variable annuities), Series 7 (to sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options and other non-traditional assets), and Series 63 (registered investment adviser license). Insurance agents are required to be licensed for each product that they sell (life, variable life, long term care, etc.). Broker-dealers are in the business of selling financial products. They commonly distribute mutual funds, insurance products, and non-traditional financial assets (like limited partnerships, hedge funds, and unit investment trusts). The broker-dealer landscape is broad. It includes the large wire house firms headquartered on Wall Street, regional retail brokerage firms, and independent broker-dealers of all sizes. Registered representatives are distribution agents for the broker-dealers. It is their job to sell the products to the investing public. When a stockbroker, financial planner or insurance agent sells a product, the financial product company gives the broker-dealer a commission. The broker-dealer, in turn, pays the salesperson a percentage of this commission, depending upon the level of production (or sales) that he generates for the firm.

2 Broker-dealers refer to their registered representatives as producers. It is every registered representative s goal to be a Top Producer. This means that he is among the top ranked generators of sales commissions for the firm, and is among the highest compensated agents. As in any sales culture, compensation is the ultimate benchmark used to measure each registered representative s effectiveness. Some firms have what is known as a million dollar roundtable. In order for a registered representative to sit at this table, he must generate more than one million dollars in commissions for the year. Top producers might win a trip to Hawaii or a new set of golf clubs or some other form of soft dollar (non-cash) compensation. Perhaps they will receive a plaque and special recognition at the annual sales meeting. When broker-dealers recruit registered representatives from competing firms, they request documentation of the representative s historic commissions to ensure that they are hiring top talent. Broker-dealers attract top producers by offering a wide range of financial products to sell to the investing public. They perform due diligence and negotiate sales agreements for mutual funds, limited partnerships, unit investment trusts, separate accounts, insurance products (life, disability, health, long term care, annuities, viaticals, etc.), wrap account services, money management platforms, and brokerage services. Broker-dealers provide educational opportunities and sales training to attract, develop and retain top talent. Large brokerage firms have training programs in which they school their new recruits in the fine art of cold calling (also known as dialing for dollars ), and referral generation techniques from centers of influence (such as accountants and attorneys). Product companies, like mutual funds and insurance companies, also contribute strategies and resources to broker-dealers to educate registered representatives to sell their products more effectively. They employ wholesalers to court and solicit business directly from the top-producing registered representatives. They might use soft dollar incentives like sponsoring client appreciation luncheons or paying for other costs that the registered representative might have. There are strict legal guidelines regarding soft dollar incentives, but there are also a lot of gray areas that are exploited. Another way that broker-dealers and product companies aid registered representatives is by providing turnkey sales support for complex cases. For example, suppose a registered representative finds an elderly wealthy prospect with altruistic motives and a portfolio of highly appreciated stock that is not paying a dividend. The prospect can t sell the stock without taking a huge hit in taxes. The prospect doesn t have any cash to buy the product, so the registered representative can t make a sale. How can the registered representative sell his wealthy prospect this product that will solve the client s problems and earn him a healthy commission? He calls up his broker-dealer and/or the product company and explains the situation. They come up with a strategy and walk the registered representative through it. In this example, they would set up a charitable remainder trust, gift the stocks to the trust (prospect gets a big tax deduction), sell the stocks (prospect doesn t pay any taxes) and reinvest the proceeds in the investment products that the registered representative wishes to sell (that will produce an income stream for the prospect). They would also set up an irrevocable life insurance trust and sell the client a second-to-die life insurance policy to replace the assets that the client is giving away so the heirs would not come back and sue the registered representative for convincing their parents to give away their inheritance. In this example, the registered representative sold investments and insurance while providing the prospect with tax benefits, an income stream, and a tax-free inheritance for his heirs. If properly executed, this registered representative is a hero. Registered representatives seek out broker-dealers that will support them with a quiver full of good product offerings and strategies (like the one illustrated above). Furthermore, having an

3 advanced strategy as an arrow in your product offering quiver is impressive to prospects, and an ego boost for the registered representative. Back office sales support is the true function of a broker-dealer. If a registered representative is particularly entrepreneurial and effective in product sales, he will seek out an independent broker-dealer that generally offers higher commission pay-out rates. The large wire house firms like Merrill Lynch and Solomon Smith Barney aren t as lucrative in their payout rates as the independent broker-dealers are. There is a huge push among financial services firms to have their stockbrokers and insurance agents to become financial planners. This is indicative of the industry-wide desire to be perceived as a trusted personal advisor rather than a product salesman. The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation has grown as the industry benchmark for financial competency. The CFP Board stresses ethical conduct, full disclosure of all pertinent issues including compensation, and continuing education requirements. Many firms require all new hires to obtain the designation by a specified time after their recruitment. The financial planning process revolutionized the financial services industry. The consumer has benefited because their entire financial picture (including investments, taxes, estate planning, retirement planning and individual special needs) is being analyzed and the various components are being synchronized to reach their long-term goals. Broker-dealers and registered representatives have benefited because it enables them to sell more products to each client. COMPENSATION STRUCTURE: Financial professionals are compensated one of three ways: 1. receive commissions only, 2. receive fees-only, or 3. receive fees and commissions or fee-offset. A great debate is raging in the financial services industry about how its participants are paid, and what value they are offering for their compensation. As disclosure and investor education has improved, the difference between financial product sales and objective investment and financial advice has been exposed. Consumers want objective advice. They want to be advised not sold. Unfortunately, the commission structure of a product offering sometimes clouds the issue of suitability for individual investors. Selling financial products can be an extremely lucrative career. The commission structure for different financial products is constantly evolving. Another word for a commission in the financial services industry is load. Mutual funds and insurance products are among the most popular loaded investment options. If you see a mutual fund advertised as a no load fund, it does not pay a commission to registered representatives for distribution. If you see a fund that has a 12b-1 charge, this represents a load or commission that is paid to the registered representative. Funds refer to these costs as marketing expenses. They are varying commission schedules for mutual funds. The funds are classified as A, B, or C shares. A shares pay a 5% commission up front, which is taken directly from the principal that is initially invested in the fund. For every year that the investor owns the fund, the mutual fund company pays a trail of 0.25% of the balance invested. This commission trail is intended to compensate the advisor for continuing his service of the account. A shares have the lowest expense ratios relative to the other load shares (B and C) because they have low commission trails. This commission structure was popular among transaction oriented registered representatives that want to generate the most commissions in a short period of time. This is the original commission payment structure for the mutual fund industry.

4 B shares pay the advisor 4-5% up front commission, but they don t take the money out of the principal as it is initially invested (the way the A shares do). Instead, they charge the investor a higher expense ratio for the first five years that they own the fund so they can recoup the commissions that they paid to the registered representative. After five years, the B share becomes an A share, and the annual expense ratio declines to reflect that the commission has been paid off by the investor. When an investor purchases a B share, he is told there is a back end load, which means if you sell the fund within five years after purchasing it, you will be hit with sales penalties. They penalties decrease each year on a sliding scale until they disappear entirely when the fund becomes an A share. This penalty represents a refund of the sales commission that the fund paid the registered representative for distributing its product. Because of the five-year holding period minimum, B shares offer less flexibility for investors than other options that are available. Generally, if an investor wished to sell the B share, he could do so and re-purchase another B share mutual fund in the same fund family, assuming there are other suitable funds available. The B shares lack of flexibility is a hindrance. What if the manager dies or is not good and the fund family has no other suitable options? What if the investor has an emergency and needs the money sooner than expected? B shares are usually sold to younger investors that have less money to invest. C Shares are also known as level load funds. These mutual funds pay a 1% commission to the registered representative each year. Because of this, their annual expense ratio is similar to or higher than B share mutual funds. This commission structure is becoming increasingly popular with registered representatives who want to gather assets under management and design a steady income stream for themselves. When mutual funds pay commissions and take out fees, the investor does not see it (except in the case of A shares where the commission amount is deducted up-front). However, commissions are explained in the fund s prospectus. Not many investors read the prospectus prior to the sale of a mutual fund, but registered representatives are required by law to distribute them to their clients when they make the sale. Insurance products pay significant commissions and trails, and the range of products is staggering. Usually an agent will focus on a range of hot or well-known insurance product lines and get licensed to sell them. The commission schedules for insurance products can range from 40% to 70% of the initial premium paid by the client. This doesn t even include commission trails that agents receive each year as the insurance is renewed. There are over three million insurance product salesmen in the United States. This is the largest segment of the financial services industry. Insurance is also one of the oldest financial products sold. Unconventional products include limited partnerships, hedge funds, and unit investment trusts. Limited partnerships were in vogue in the 1980s during the tax-shelter hay days. There are still a few around. They usually pay an up-front commission of 8% of the invested capital. The danger with limited partnerships is that they are illiquid, and the limited partner investor has no rights. They get their money back when the general partner deems it is time. This could be five to twenty five years from the time of the initial investment. Hedge funds generally pay commissions under the same structure that mutual funds do. Unit investment trusts are unmanaged baskets of stocks or bonds that pay commissions similar to A share mutual funds. In the last twenty years, comprehensive Fee-Only financial planning has exploded onto the financial services scene. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is the preeminent trade organization for comprehensive, Fee-Only financial planners in the United States. The

5 members of this organization provide consumers and institutions with comprehensive and objective financial advice on a "Fee-Only" basis, keeping only the best interests of the client in mind- with neither the advisor nor any related party receiving compensation contingent on the purchase or sale of a financial product. In essence, they are objective and un-biased financial advisors, not financial product salespeople. Fee Only adherents argue that commission-based compensation is not conducive to the spirit of a fiduciary relationship. Critics cite the potential for conflict of interest where a registered representative might have the incentive to put his financial interests before the best interests of the client. There are several facts that support this position. Registered representatives are measured by the dollar amount of commissions that they generate for the broker-dealer (i.e. the million dollar roundtable ) and they receive incentives from product companies (cruises, golf outings, trips to Hawaii, etc.) for sales volume. Registered representatives argue that fiduciary responsibility is a matter of the individual s character. It is up to each salesperson to choose to act according to his conscience and sell only the most suitable products in the best interest of each client. There are ample regulations and laws in place to ensure that the registered representative behaves reputably, and industry watchdogs and administrative bodies (such as the Certified Financial Planner Board) have strict guidelines pertaining to its members conduct and ethics. Compliance with these laws and regulations is a huge responsibility (and liability) of the broker-dealers, and they take it very seriously. Broker-dealers employ compliance officers (also known as the sales prevention team ) to ensure that registered representatives stay out of gray areas (and arbitration proceedings). This argument is right about one thing: the underlying foundation of a successful financial advisory relationship is character. In many cases, registered representatives are behaving honorably and in the best interests of their clients. However, there are inherent flaws in this system, and circumstances where abuses can and will occur. The temptation for registered representatives to act in their own best interest is great, and sometimes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Sun Tzu wrote in his classic book, The Art of War, Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster. The mandate of the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association is to represent investors in disputes with the securities industry. To serve your clients effectively, it s important to be familiar with the structure of the securities industry and the sales culture that it propagates. After all, financial products are sold, not bought. A. Todd Black, CFP(R) is President of Dogwood Capital Management, Inc., a fee-only wealth management firm. He is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and the Association for Investment Management and Research (AIMR). His areas of expertise include financial planning and investment management. He can be reached at (770) or via at

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