What’s the best way to find a great restaurant? You ask friends for their recommendations, or you go to on-line resources like Yelp or Trip Advisor to read reviews of diners who post their opinions.
Obtaining recommendations and unbiased feedback is even more important when you are trying to find an excellent attorney, CPA or financial advisor. The recommendation of a friend or other trusted advisor who knows and has used their services is a much more reliable resource than an advertisement. When we’re asked to recommend someone, we do our best to match the client’s specific need to the expertise and experience of the professional.
One of the CPA firms we work with does a great job monitoring the job they do for their clients by sending out a survey each year to obtain feedback. They’ve been gratified by the positive comments they receive from their clients, and feature them on their website, as proof of the excellent service they provide.
When I was at lunch with the managing partner of the firm, I complimented him on the job they were doing, and added I wished we could post our client survey results and comments on our website as well. He was surprised to learn that we are barred from posting any positive comments from our clients, CPAs or attorneys, and are not even allowed to accept recommendations or positive comments on other websites, under the SEC’s restrictions against testimonials.
This rule reared its ugly head again recently with a change in the professional/social media website, LinkedIn. LinkedIn recently made it easier to recommend someone’s expertise, and since this feature was added, Chris, Chip and I have been recommended by many clients and other professionals through our LinkedIn pages. We sincerely appreciate all the positive feedback and recommendations, but we have been forced to delete them due to the SEC rules.
The most frustrating part? Registered representatives (stockbrokers), insurance agents and others who hold themselves out as financial advisors, but are not Registered Investment Advisors with the SEC, are permitted to post recommendations. The rules surrounding their conduct are not as strict as those for TAAG. For RIAs, however, testimonials are specifically prohibited by Rule 206(4)-1(a)(1) under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
This confuses consumers and makes it difficult to get a true picture of an advisor’s level of service and client satisfaction.
We doubt this rule will be changed any time soon, particularly with all the debate going on between the SEC and FINRA regarding the regulation of advisors, but we wanted you to understand the difference.