Monday, December 4, 2017
In the Wall Street Journal, there is a recent, wonderful profile of Boston University Law Professor Tamar Frankel, who has been fighting the good fight to gain adoption of "The Fiduciary Rule" for financial advisors, investment brokers and others in positions of trust for her entire academic career.
And, at age 92, she's still fighting the good fight, as the Trump administration recently delayed full implementation.
When Ms. Frankel began researching fiduciary law in earnest in the 1970s, she dwelled on that idea: A fiduciary is someone trusted by others because he or she has superior knowledge and expertise. People hire brokers because the brokers know what they’re doing and the clients don’t. That gives fiduciaries power and responsibility over those who trust them.
The unconditional trust that clients place in a fiduciary creates a paradox, argues Ms. Frankel. “When you get power, you lose the power you might otherwise have,” she says.
A fiduciary adviser can’t abuse the relationship of trust by collecting unreasonable compensation or harboring avoidable conflicts of interest. The relationship is meant to satisfy only the needs of the client.
Professor Frankel appears to be remarkably sanguine about the latest delays:
With the Trump administration putting parts of the fiduciary rule on hold, Ms. Frankel counsels patience.
“What the rule has done is sown the seed, and the longer it takes the better off we are, because what we must change is the culture and the habits in the financial industry,” she says. “Habits don’t change in one day. It takes time.”
After she turns 93 next July 4, Ms. Frankel says, she will stop teaching—although she will continue to research and write. What accounts for her longevity? “Caring less and less about what other people think,” she says, “and more and more about questions you don’t have answers to.”
I have a copy of Professor Frankel's thoughtful treatise on Fiduciary Law (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011) on the shelf behind my desk, complete with sticky notes and much yellow and red highlighting. I've been meaning to write Professor Frankel to thank her for her work over the years -- and now this article reminds me to get to that task!
My thanks to my always eagle-eyed friend and correspondent, Karen Miller, in Florida for this latest find and reminder.