What's Wrong With Earning a Commission From the Sale of a Financial Product?
What's wrong with earning a commission from the sale of a financial product? Nothing. It isn’t any more inappropriate than a car salesperson earning a commission when you buy a vehicle.
Yet there's one important difference. When you buy a car the roles are clear. You know going in that the salesperson is there to sell you their product. You understand it’s your responsibility to do your homework and know what you need and can afford.
That clarity of roles is purposely clouded in the financial services industry. The "salespeople" are rarely referred to as such. Instead they call themselves creatively contrived variations like "financial advisor," "financial planner," "financial consultant," or "financial representative." The only advice a financial salesperson gives is in conjunction with the sales pitch to buy their product, where the incentive for them is receiving a commission.
This pretense that salespeople are working for the customer rather than the financial firm that employs them creates an inherent conflict of interest. The salesperson's financial rewards come from pushing products versus giving client-oriented, comprehensive financial advice.
The conflict of interest resulted in many brokerage and insurance firms in the 1980’s providing incentives for their salespeople to push high commission products while hiding the high fees. Just one of many examples was described in a 1993 article in the Los Angeles Times. Prudential allowed salespeople to cheat customers out of $3 billion of losses invested into 700 Prudential limited partnerships that were high-risk and "rife with misconduct" while telling investors they were "safe, high-yield investments comparable to bank certificates of deposit." The company finally agreed to a fine of $371 million, representing about 12% of what investors lost.
You might think that, 24 years later, things have changed and large financial firms selling products have changed. They haven't. One recent example was the $185 million fine paid by Wells Fargo over charging their customers fees for financial products they didn’t authorize.
Also, two years ago JPMorgan was fined $307 million for product pushing. Last year they were fined $264 million for their part in a vast foreign bribery scheme.
In 2015, one of the top JPMorgan representatives, Johnny Burris, who has been in the business for more than 25 years, refused to steer clients into proprietary JPMorgan funds that he felt had become rife with high fees. As reported in Financial Planning magazine, he was let go by the company.
But wait, that’s not all. If you think Wells Fargo and JPMorgan’s fines were notable, think again. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Bank of America has paid $76.6 billion in 31 settlements from 2009 to 2016. During the same period, Chase Bank paid $38 billion in 22 settlements and Citigroup paid $15.8 billion in 15 settlement cases.
With a track record like this, you might think that consumers would be demanding wholesale changes in the way we regulate financial advice. They probably would be if they were personally aware of how hidden costs and fees cost the average investor thousands of dollars a year. No wonder that big financial firms can afford to pay billions in fines as a cost of doing business.
Other countries, including Australia, Canada, and the UK, have required a distinct separation of financial advice from financial sales. Hopefully the US won't let another 24 years go by with no changes in the way we regulate companies that sell financial products. For those changes to be driven by consumer demand, more investors need to learn about the costs they pay and to realize that sellers of financial products are not that different from sellers of cars.
China's Push Toward Excellence Delivers a Global Robotics Investment Opportunity
Written by: Jeremie Capron
China is on a mission to change its reputation from a manufacturer of cheap, mass-produced goods to a world leader in high quality manufacturing. If that surprises you, you’re not the only one.
For decades, China has been synonymous with the word cheap. But times are changing, and much of that change is reliant on the adoption of robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, or RAAI (pronounced “ray”). For investors, this shift is driving a major opportunity to capture growth and returns rooted in China’s rapidly increasing demand for RAAI technologies.
You may have heard of ‘Made in China 2025,’ the strategy announced in 2015 by the central government aimed at remaking its industrial sector into a global leader in high-technology products and advanced manufacturing techniques. Unlike some public relations announcements, this one is much more than just a marketing tagline. Heavily subsidized by the Chinese government, the program is focused on generating major investments in automated manufacturing processes, also referred to as Industry 4.0 technologies, in an effort to drive a massive transformation across every sector of manufacturing. The program aims to overhaul the infrastructure of China’s manufacturing industry by not only driving down costs, but also—and perhaps most importantly—by improving the quality of everything it manufactures, from textiles to automobiles to electronic components.
Already, China has become what is arguably the most exciting robotics market in the world. The numbers speak for themselves. In 2016 alone, more than 87,000 robots were sold in the country, representing a year-over-year increase of 27%, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Last month’s World Robot Conference 2017 in Beijing brought together nearly 300 artificial intelligence (AI) specialists and representatives of over 150 robotics enterprises, making it one of the world’s largest robotics-focused conference in the world to date. That’s quite a transition for a country that wasn’t even on the map in the area of robotics only a decade ago.
As impressive as that may be, what’s even more exciting for anyone with an eye on the robotics industry is the fact that this growth represents only a tiny fraction of the potential for robotics penetration across China’s manufacturing facilities—and for investors in the companies that are delivering or are poised to deliver on the promise of RAAI-driven manufacturing advancements.
Despite its commitment to leverage the power of robotics, automation and AI to meet its aggressive ‘Made in China 2025’ goals, at the moment China has only 1 robot in place for every 250 manufacturing workers. Compare that to countries like Germany and Japan, where manufacturers utilize an average of one robot for every 30 human workers. Even if China were simply trying to catch up to other countries’ use of robotics, those numbers would signal immense near-term growth. But China is on a mission to do much more than achieve the status quo. The result? According to a recent report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), in 2019 as much as 40% of the worldwide market volume of industrial robots could be sold in China alone.
To understand how the country can support such grand growth, just take a look at where and why robotics is being applied today. While the automotive sector has historically been the largest buyer of robots, China’s strategy reaches far and wide to include a wide variety of future-oriented manufacturing processes and industries.
Electronics is a key example. In fact, the electrical and electronics industry surpassed the automotive industry as the top buyer of robotics in 2016, with sales up 75% to almost 30,000 units. Assemblers such as Foxconn rely on thousands of workers to assemble today’s new iPhones. Until recently, the assembly of these highly delicate components required a level of human dexterity that robots simply could not match, as well as human vision to help ensure accuracy and quality. But recent advancements in robotics are changing all that. Industrial robots already have the ability to handle many of the miniature components in today’s smart phones. Very soon, these robots are expected to have the skills to bolster the human workforce, significantly increasing manufacturing capacity. Newer, more dexterous industrial robots are expected to significantly reduce human error during the assembly process of even the most fragile components, including the recently announced OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens that Samsung and Apple introduced on their latest mobile devices including the iPhone X. Advancements in computer vision are transforming how critical quality checks are performed on these and many other electronic devices. All of these innovations are coming together at just the right time for a country that is striving to create the world’s most advanced manufacturing climate.
Clearly, China’s trajectory in the area of RAAI is in hyper drive. For investors who are seeking a tool to leverage this opportunity in an intelligent and perhaps unexpected way, the ROBO Global Robotics & Automation Index may help. The ROBO Index already offers a vast exposure to China’s potential growth due to the depth and breadth of the robotics and automation supply chain. As China continues to improve its manufacturing processes to meet its 2025 initiative, every supplier across China’s far-reaching supply chains will benefit. Wherever they are located, suppliers of RAAI-related components—reduction gears, sensors, linear motion systems, controllers, and so much more—are bracing for spikes in demand as China pushes to turn its dream into a reality.
Today, around 13% of the revenues generated by the ROBO Global Index members are driven by China’s investments in robotics and automation. Tomorrow? It’s hard to say. But one thing is for certain: China’s commitment to improving the quality and cost-efficiency of its manufacturing facilities is showing no signs of slowing down—and its reliance on robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence is vital to its success.
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