Speaking at a Dec. 3 Consumer Federation of America's financial services conference Schapiro took issue with the different set of standards for investment professionals.
"If it's a broker-dealer, he's sold a product that is 'suitable' for him. If it's an investment adviser, he gets treated under a higher standard-the fiduciary duty standard-meaning that the investment adviser has to provide advice that puts the investor's interest first," Schapiro said.
The SEC is currently looking at changes to 12b-1 fee disclosures. The fees are automatically deducted from mutual funds to compensate securities professionals for sales and services provided to mutual fund investors. Schapiro said investors may not know the fees are being deducted. In 2008, these 12b-1 fees amounted to more than $13 billion, up from a few million dollars in 1980 when they were first permitted, she added.
In early 2010, the commission is also set to examine target date funds, which contain a target retirement date in an investor's name and are designed to become more conservatively invested as the target date approaches, Schapiro explained. One of the problems is in 2008, many investors were surprised when target date funds marketed to 2010 retirees lost between 9% and 41% of their value, she said.
"The 'set it and forget it' slogans of these funds resulted in shocked investors who were on the verge of retirement. It was a wake-up call for investors, employers and regulators, alike," Schapiro said.
Earlier this year, the SEC held a joint hearing with the Department of Labor, which has designated target date funds as qualified default options for 401(k) retirement plans. Since that hearing, the regulator has focused on the marketing materials related to these funds and the use of target dates in fund names.
To add more muscle to the agency's efforts to protect investors, Schapiro said she has been an advocate of the commission being able to fund its own operations through fees the agency collects. The amount of fees "far surpasses" the amount appropriated by Congress to the SEC each fiscal year.
"Through self-funding, the SEC will be able to maintain sufficient, stable long-term funding that would enable us to perform long-term planning and better protect the interests of investors," Schapiro said.
Meanwhile, securities professionals, "regardless of what their business card says," should be subject to the same standard of conduct, the same licensing and qualification requirements, the same disclosure obligations, the same regulatory and recordkeeping standards and a robust examination and oversight schedule, Schapiro proposed.
"This approach may disrupt a number of entrenched interests. But, we are doing no service to retail investors by continuing with a distinctly different regulatory approach for professionals who perform virtually the same or similar services."
Shapiro said she wants to know what investors encounter when they walk into a financial professional's office or call them on the phone. For instance, does the investor make a distinction between brokers and investment advisers "the way the law does." Or, is relevant, simple and comparable information at the point of sale or recommendation or after the sale has occurred, if at all. She also wondered if investors know about all the fees they are charged and whether they are getting the services they are paying for.
"Surely, buying a security is not like buying cereal in the grocery store. But, when we enter a grocery store, we at least can see nutrition labels that are easily comparable; we can see prices that are clearly marked. We can count calories and save cents as we walk through the aisles comparing products," Schapiro said. "But, back at that office of the financial professional, comparative shopping is not so easy. In my mind, this should not be the case."
Schapiro praised Congress and President Obama's administration for moving the SEC toward a unified fiduciary standard.