The SEC’s new customer relationship summary form makes it easier for investors to understand a given advisor’s fees and conflicts of interest, but the way it’s structured isn’t simple enough, according to one industry commentator.
Form CRS, as it’s known, is a maximum four-page disclosure form introduced as part of the regulator’s recently-implemented Regulation Best Interest. But its format as it stands now misses the mark because it only addresses what investors need to know — not why they need to know it, Jason Zweig writes in the Wall Street Journal.
The SEC’s testing of the disclosure suggests that more is needed, according to Zweig. A Rand Corp. study for the regulator found that the average person spent 46 seconds reading about fees and costs on the form and 22 seconds about conflicts of interest, he writes.
That’s because it’s only rational for us to make shortcuts when faced with infinite information and limited attention and time, according to Zweig. Another survey for the SEC found that around a quarter of investors couldn’t say which fees they paid from a list of six common types, and more than 20% believed they don't pay any, he writes.
Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., sponsored a bill requiring the SEC to conduct further testing of investor disclosures, saying, “Let’s communicate as clearly and efficiently as we can — more like Hemingway, less like lawyers,” according to Zweig. That bill passed the full House of Representatives last week but isn’t likely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, however, Zweig writes.
Zweig suggests that disclosures should get to the heart of the matter before getting into fees and expenses, with a statement such as, “The cost of investments and financial advice is the single most controllable factor in how much your money can grow over time. The more you pay, the less you will get to keep.”
Only then should the disclosure list the advisor’s fees compared to the average, high and low.
Zweig also suggests offering color-coded comparisons for the number and severity of a given advisor’s conflicts of interest compared to other advisors.