Edward Jones Gets It Wrong: Self Interest Trumps Fiduciary Interest of Retirement Investors

Edward Jones announced changes in its model that purport to be fiduciary but in reality they are not. Changes to its IRA model may serve Edward Jones' interests , but they do not serve the best interest of investors.

Rather than providing bona fide fiduciary advice that is in the best interest of investors -- at a reasonable all-in cost, the changes they announced fail investors by eliminating mutual funds and ETFs from the allowed IRA choices, noting that investors can "choose" from variable annuities, one of the most abusive investment vehicles, individual stocks, bonds and certificates of deposit.

It's hard to see how investors could properly diversify without high quality, low or reasonable mutual funds as an investment option. Diversification is a fiduciary obligation. There's also the fiduciary obligation to ensure that the discussion and decision to roll out of a 401(k) plan and into an IRA is in the investor's best interest. That needs to be documented -- and it's hard to imagine how this would fulfill Edward Jones's fiduciary duty to the investor.

Edward Jones may say investors would have a choice to use variable annuities (VAs) to achieve diversification through mutual funds in the VA. However, that would add more commissions and fees for the VA AND an added layer of costs for the mutual funds (unless it's a very low cost VA, with high quality and low cost fund choices). It is extremely unlikely that that would be in the best interest of most retirement investors -- it just adds higher costs to the investor, for no benefit to the investor. So that's not a fiduciary recommendation. It's hard to see how that would fulfill the fiduciary obligation under the BIC exemption. If it doesn't, the BIC would be void -- and so trigger a prohibited transaction for Edward Jones.

It would be prudent to eliminate mutual fund share classes that have up-front commissions or high ongoing costs. There are many mutual funds available that have a reasonable or low cost, without up-front or ongoing commissions, that would be beneficial to include if a firm were serious about placing the investor's best interest before the firm's or rep's.

Unfortunately, Edward Jones has chosen to take backward steps, not steps in the investor's best interest. We cheer for firms and intermediaries who wish to place the investor's best interests first. Many, many small and large firms already do this. But making changes in ways that benefit the firm and not investor is not the way to do that.

Fortunately, there is time for Edward Jones to amend how they are making changes to work within the Fiduciary Rule, and actually do so in investors' best interest. We hope they will do that.

We invite Edward Jones to use the Fiduciary Oath a part of their fiduciary process. It's available here:

Investors can use this version of the Fiduciary Oath -- print it, and take it to your current financial intermediary. If they sign it, that's an indication that they are serious about placing the investor's interests before their own. If they won't sign, or say they "can't" -- well, let's just say there are plenty of bona fide fiduciaries that would be glad to sign it.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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