Wealth Management

(New York)

Advisors need to prepare themselves for a nasty eventuality that looks like a near certainty when the market next crashes. According to a top wealth management lawyer, there are likely to be a great deal of lawsuits filed by clients against their advisors whenever the next big crash comes. The lawsuits will be focused on claims of reverse churning, or that advisors put client money in fee-baseds account in order to collect fees without offering significant advice or trading. Since switching clients into fee-based accounts (versus commission-based accounts) has been a very common practice over the last several years, the atmosphere is ripe for a massive wave of lawsuits.

FINSUM: This article is worryingly insightful. The big switch to fee-based accounts, which preceded but also corresponded to the DOL rule, might have set up advisors for some major legal headaches in the next downturn.

(New York)

Fidelity is doubling down on its recent move to offer completely free index funds with no investment minimums. The money manager will launch a pair of new free index funds, one focused on large caps, and the other on the “extended market” (or small and midcaps), in late September. The new free funds are part of Fidelity’s strategy to compete vigorously on pricing to bring in new clients, and then try to earn money from them spending on other services.

FINSUM: Fidelity is almost using these funds as loss leaders in order to drum up other business. This may work for them because they have such a large product suite, but for less diversified managers, it poses a serious challenge.

(New York)

For several years Vanguard was seen as the champion of low-cost investing. It led the revolution in ever-lower cost ETFs. However, just recently, it seems to have fallen on hard times as it is facing challenges on multiple fronts. In particular, it is suffering at the hands of Fidelity, which is undercutting it on fund pricing. Fidelity’s recent no-fee index funds mean they are even cheaper than Vanguard’s lowest cost funds. The second, and perhaps even more worrisome challenge, relates to investment minimums, which Fidelity did away with on its cheapest funds. Vanguard’s minimums are now starting to look old-fashioned by comparison.

FINSUM: The best way for Vanguard to compete would be to merge some of the classes of their products. However, doing so would require a big revenue haircut, all of which means the company has some tough choices to make.

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