A ruling today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit may force certain broker-dealers to adopt fiduciary duties toward their customers. The Securities and Exchange Commission previously had exempted these brokers, and the Financial Planning Association, represented by D.C.'s Merril Hirsh of Ross, Dixon & Bell, challenged this exemption. (Some of the association's members would compete for clients against these brokers.) The D.C. Circuit concluded that the SEC's exemption was contrary to the Investment Advisers Act.
My take: The financial-services industry would greatly improve if everyone involved (brokers and otherwise) acted as true fiduciaries. But when your money is at stake, don't wait for legislatures, courts, or government agencies to clean house. Avoid anyone on commission, minimize your investment costs, and, if you genuinely need outside advice, look for fee-only advisers who truly act in the utmost good faith.