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Financial Planning

Your Rights and Protections When Working With a Financial Adviser

You can file complaints against financial advisers with government agencies or industry watchdogs.

If you have any problems with an adviser or suspicions about his or her recommendations, you can contact the Securities and Exchange Commission’s office of investor assistance at 800-732-0330 to ask questions or file a complaint. You can also file a formal complaint online with the SEC. The SEC sends the complaint with a letter to the adviser, who is required to respond to the investor and the SEC in writing. A trade may be reversed, or there may be a settlement offer, or the complaint could go to arbitration or mediation. If the SEC sees multiple complaints about one adviser or firm, it may pass the information along to investigators, who in turn could take enforcement action.

You can file a complaint against a CFP through the CFP Board. For problems with insurance agents, contact the state insurance department (find links at www.naic.org).

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If you have a problem with your broker, Finra recommends first talking with your broker or the broker’s manager, then contacting the compliance officer at the brokerage firm, says Gerri Walsh, senior vice president of investor education for Finra. If that doesn’t work, then file a complaint with Finra at www.finra.org/investors.

Your rights and protections will get even stronger in the next two years. The Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule is designed to ensure that anyone getting paid to provide investment advice for your retirement account must put your best interests ahead of his or her own; the rule will especially affect advisers who charge commissions rather than transparent fees. Its main provisions, including imposing a fiduciary status on advice providers, take effect on April 10, 2017. The extra requirements for financial professionals who accept commissions don't fully kick in until January 1, 2018. Regulators and financial-services firms are still figuring out the details, but insurers and brokerage firms are already changing the structure of some of their products to move away from up-front commissions.

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