"You Mean They Can STILL Screw Their Clients??"

“Cruel Kindness” — and Vice Versa

Cruel to be kind in the right measure
Cruel to be kind it’s a very good sign
Cruel to be kind means that I love you
Baby, got to be cruel, you got to be cruel to be kind

–Nick Lowe; lyrics, “Cruel to Be Kind”

Which of the following professionals have a legal duty to put their customers’ interests ahead of their own?

A. Stock Broker
B. Insurance Agent
C. Realtor
D. Investment Banker

Answer: C

That’s right: only Realtors owe their clients what is called a fiduciary duty.

That duty further subdivides into a duty of care, and a duty of loyalty: in plain English, don’t be a screw-up, and don’t screw your client, respectively.

The issue of fiduciary duty is a hot one these days because stock brokers don’t currently owe their clients a fiduciary duty — and don’t want the details of the new financial reform legislation, now being drafted, to impose one (“Dear SEC: Please Make Brokers Accountable to Customers”; The NYT, 11/19/2010).

Instead, stock brokers prefer the current standard, which merely requires that they weigh the “suitability” of particular investments for their clients.

Incredibly, the industry is arguing against a higher fiduciary duty on the grounds that it will raise costs, which will hurt clients.

So, there you have it: allowing brokers to screw their clients is actually good for them, and preventing that is bad.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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