NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Fiduciary Duty and the Market for Financial Advice

Vivek Bhattacharya, Gaston Illanes, Manisha Padi

NBER Working Paper No. 25861
Issued in May 2019
NBER Program(s):Industrial Organization, Law and Economics

Recent regulatory debate in the financial advice industry has focused on expanding fiduciary duties to broker-dealers. Proponents of this reform argue that it would improve the advice given to clients and limit losses from agency problems, while detractors counter that such regulation would increase compliance costs without directly improving consumer outcomes. This paper evaluates these claims empirically, using a transactions-level dataset for annuity sales from a major financial services provider and exploiting state-level variation in common law fiduciary duty. We find that imposing fiduciary duty on broker-dealers shifts the set of products they sell to consumers, away from variable annuities and towards fixed indexed annuities. Within variable annuities, fiduciary duty induces a shift towards lower-fee, higher-return annuities with a wider array of investment options. We develop a model that leverages the distributional changes in products sold to test the mechanism by which fiduciary duty operates. We find evidence that fiduciary duty does not solely increase the cost of doing business but that it has the intended effect of directly impacting financial advice.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25861

 
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