Advisors Can Flaunt Their Rankings and Awards. But It's Not a Free for All.

Louis Tambaro Quoted in RIA Intel

As Published in RIA Intel

October 28, 2020 | By: Michael Thrasher

Throughout every year, financial advisors win awards and are ranked against one another, mainly by media organizations.

This week, Investopedia published a list of 100 advisors it deems the “most engaged, influential, and educational.” Barron’s has several different annual rankings, as does Investment News and Financial Planning. There’s’s “Wealthies,” the NAPFA Awards, and others.

It would be hard to keep up with all of them, if it weren’t for the inevitable celebrating that follows online. Exposure benefits award bestowers and recipients alike.

While wealth managers can advertise their third-party recognition, rules apply and some advisors are forgetting them. “It seems to come up all the time during examinations and advisors are always caught off guard,” Max Schatzow, an attorney at​ Stark & Starkmore, told RIA Intel.

Schatzow cannot recall any regulatory enforcement actions against a firm for advertising some form of recognition from a third-party. But examiners have noticed and warned his clients about showcasing those things. “We’ve seen advisors who advertise these on their websites, or in press releases, or other publicly-facing mediums, and they get sort of dinged” for something that could be misleading to investors, he said.

In 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission's Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) began what it called the “Touting Initiative” to “examine the adequacy of disclosures that advisers provided to their clients when touting awards, promoting ranking lists, and/or identifying professional designations.” The following year, the OCIE concluded that advisors were using rankings and awards in misleading ways.

The OCIE discovered that some advisors had obtained accolades by submitting false information. Others failed to disclose the criteria or methodology behind accolades they were flaunting, or the organization that “created and conducted the survey and the fact that advisers paid a fee to participate in or distribute the results of the survey.” Regulators also found that advisors advertised their high rankings in publications but the accolades “were issued several years prior, and the rankings were no longer applicable.”

In response to the OCIE observations, advisors chose to either remove misleading language or to add necessary disclosures.

Louis Tambaro, an attorney and principal at Offit Kurman, said tightening regulations throughout the industry should convince advisors they need to heed the guidance from the OCIE and be mindful of laws governing how they can present themselves.

“While the threat to customers with respect to the advertisement of prior accolades is minimal, regulators might take issue with the publication of ‘rankings’ that have been changed or are no longer operative, which could in theory lead to investor confusion,” Tambaro said.

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ABOUT LOUS TAMBARO | 732.218.1807

Mr. Tambaro is a commercial litigator with concentrations in the areas of financial services and franchise law. In his practice, he regularly handles the representation of independent broker-dealers, RIAs, wealth management firms, and individual financial advisors/planners in all facets of their businesses including transactional, litigation (including broker expungement applications) and regulatory matters, as well as in a plethora of other fields. He regularly litigates in the State and federal courts of New Jersey and New York and in alternative dispute resolution forums such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Mr. Tambaro brings a unique perspective and understanding, as he couples his experience in private legal practice with extensive entrepreneurial experience as a co-manager of a recruiting branch office in one of the largest independent broker-dealers in the United States.





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