Regardless of whether a financial advisor is an “investment advisor” or a “broker” or neither under federal securities laws, the advisor might be an agent of the client under the common law of agency. If so, then as a matter of state law the advisor is a fiduciary who will be subject to liability for breach of any of several fiduciary duties to the client. In a recent paper sponsored by Federated Investors that is available for download here, I examine the fiduciary obligations of financial advisors who are agents under the common law of agency. The paper draws on earlier work on the economic structure of fiduciary law.
The debate about whether to impose a harmonized federal fiduciary standard of conduct on investment advisors and brokers notwithstanding, a financial advisor who is an agent under state agency law is subject to fiduciary duties of loyalty, care, and a host of subsidiary rules that reinforce and give meaning to the broad standards of loyalty and care as applied to specific circumstances. In the event of the advisor’s breach of duty, the client will be entitled to an election among remedies that include compensatory damages to offset losses incurred or to make up gains forgone owing to the breach; disgorgement by the advisor of any profit accruing from the breach or compensation paid by the client; or punitive damages. A financial advisor who ignores the possibility of fiduciary status under state agency law acts at his peril.