Concinnus Financial Research Report: Do Stadium Naming Rights Align With Shareholder Best Interests?

Study thesis: Stadium naming rights do not align with best interests of shareholders. A company that purchases stadium naming rights may lack prudence and care in allocating capital, which negatively affects shareholder returns over the long-term.

Study background

Thus far in 2016, several high-profile bankruptcies have been witnessed, especially in the retail and energy industries. The financial health and long-term viability of many other businesses have been called into question.

This has especially been the case in retail, where internet sales growth compounded in the double digits for a decade now, has put pressure on many traditional retailers. In the oil and gas industry, the steep fall of energy prices that began in 2014 has whittled away at the strength of the world’s largest producers and hastened the decline of smaller ones, especially those producers in shale in the United States.

The observation was made that several public companies that have gone bankrupt this year or that have been under increased scrutiny are or were spending millions of dollars a year on the stadiums for professional athletic events. Two such companies were Sports Authority, which had purchased the naming rights for the stadium of the Denver Broncos in the NFL; and Chesapeake Energy, owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA stadium name.

Sports Authority declared bankruptcy in March of 2016 and will completely cease to exist by the end of the year, leading to near-total loss for investors. Chesapeake Energy is still a viable business, but laden with debt, dealing with cash flow shortfalls going on two years, and a business model that does not rely on end consumer awareness, the wisdom of holding naming rights seems dubious at best.

Due to these observations, the thesis was formed that stadium naming rights generally do not align with investor best interests. The practice may also be indicative of a lack of prudence and care on the part of management in allocating capital and making the best use of business cash flows.

Research description

The sales of stadium naming rights gained popularity in the early 1990’s as a way for stadium owners to raise funds needed for construction and to increase event revenue. Large corporations started to see the large venues as an effective way to mass-market and raise awareness of the business.

Our observations were limited to the four most popular professional athletics leagues in the United States and Canada: the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL).

The study spanned the history of the sale of naming rights in these leagues, the first of record being in 1973 between the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and private food company Rich Products.

The primary study was to first compile a historical list of all company purchasers of stadium naming rights, both private and public, and identify the duration of the right, and whether a bankruptcy occurred during or shortly after termination of the naming rights contract.

The secondary study was to compare publicly traded companies stock performance during the duration of the naming rights contract against an index, either an industry specific index or a broad stock market index like the S&P 500.

Summary of observations

There were an observed 134 companies that purchased naming rights for professional sports teams since 1973. Of those, 25 were privately held and another 11 were acquired by another company during their sponsorship. Of the remaining 98 publicly traded companies, nine of them declared bankruptcy during or shortly after their naming rights contract with the respective stadium.

This left 87 companies with publicly traded stock that we could compare against an index. The average total return across the 87 companies was 150%, and total return outperformance against respective indexes of 71%.

However, there were 56 companies that underperformed their index during their ownership of stadium naming rights, and only 31 that outperformed. We found a handful of outliers that outperformed their index skewed results. Those outliers were Qualcomm (own the rights for the San Diego Chargers stadium from 1997 – present with stock performance of 3,100%), Target (own the rights for the Minnesota Timberwolves arena from 1990 – present with stock performance of 1,860%), and Molson Coors Brewing (own the rights for the Colorado Rockies field from 1995 – present with stock performance of 1,880%).

When removing those outliers, total return of the remaining 84 companies dropped to 74%, and the average company underperformed its index by 8%.

We found that companies that have owned naming rights for longer periods of time (10 years or more) performed much better and rarely underperformed their stock index. Short-term deals, of which the majority of naming rights deals were, usually underperformed their stock index or ended when the company declared bankruptcy.

Of note was company performance by industry. Most companies observed operated in the banking, oil and energy, technology, or consumer discretionary industries. Companies operating in the consumer discretionary spending industry (retail, food and beverage, and consumer-slanted technology) usually outperformed their index during their naming rights deal. Companies operating in banking, oil and energy, and technology (enterprise or business-to-business slanted technology) usually underperformed their index.

It was observed that bankruptcies occurred during bubbles or periods of rapid change. Most bankruptcies occurred during or around the technology bubble of the late 1990’s or the financial crisis of 2008.


We conclude that the purchase of stadium naming rights by publicly traded companies generally does not align with the best interest of shareholders. An overwhelming number of companies stocks underperform broad-based stock indexes during the deals, and a high percentage declare bankruptcy during periods of severe or prolonged economic downturn. This would indicate that many of these companies are not exercising prudence and care when allocating capital and making the best use of business cash flows. Many companies that were observed, especially those that declared bankruptcy or held the naming rights for a short period of time, displayed a lack of diligence in controlling business expenses and overhead costs.

However, it could be argued that a few select companies seemed to benefit from the deals. Those operating in industries where consumer awareness and advertising benefits business and influences consumer choice (like food, beverage, and consumer-slanted technology) outperformed while sponsoring a stadium. Other companies have a vested interest in the stadium or team itself, like Rogers Communications with its ownership interest in several professional sports teams. Factors such as this also must be considered before taking a critical look at naming rights.

Excluding a few exceptions, though, it can be concluded that shareholders who own stock of a company that purchases naming rights to a venue should weigh the cost of the deal against benefits expected to be received. It is also important to consider the company’s management team, how they manage overall business operations, and their stewardship on company funds and assets.

Finance Shminance: the Internet of Things

Host Adam Austin and portfolio manager Nick Rossolillo discuss the “Internet of Things.” You’ll learn what it is, how it will shape our world, and how you can start to think about the movement from an investors point of view.

Finance Shminance: Commodities

Host Adam Austin and portfolio manager Nick Rossolillo talk about and offer their two cents on commodities, but not too seriously!

The Invention of (and Fallout From) the 30-Year Mortgage

“Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them.” – Ogden Nash

The year was 1934. The United States was wallowing through the Great Depression. Unemployment was well into the double digits, nearly one in ten homes were in foreclosure, and the average property had lost about half its value from peaks seen in the 1920’s. That year would see the launch of the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, one of many measures to help pull the country out of its deep rut.

The economic crisis of the 1930’s would end up being a grand experiment in government intervention, and would give birth to the modern home loan that we are familiar with today. Yet the onset of these financial instruments have had far-reaching consequences, both intended and unintended, and is worth mulling over. What can we learn from history, and how do we put that knowledge to work for our personal financial situations?

The Invention of the 30 Year Mortgage

The FHA was created to help Americans get back into or keep their home, as well as stimulate construction. Many home owners were unable to negotiate terms with lenders during the depression, in part because of widespread unemployment and a lack of liquidity for banks. New standards of lending were needed to get things moving again.

Prior to the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, home mortgages were very different from what they are now. A typical mortgage had an average six-year term, had a variable rate that was typically re-negotiated every year, and the loan was usually limited to a maximum of 50% of the property value. As a result, more than half of Americans rented in the pre-WWII era. Home ownership was the exception, not the rule.

When the FHA program got under way, mortgage terms and conditions were drastically altered. Duration of the loan was extended to the now familiar and commonplace 30-year term, rates were offered at fixed interest rather than variable, and the loan amount was increased to well over 50% of the property value. The government-backed program met with great success, and was expanded post WWII when war veteran’s compensation packages started to include the new home loan terms.

These new long-dated, fixed rate, high loan-to-value mortgages successfully stabilized the housing market and helped many Americans fulfill their dream of home ownership (by the 2000’s, homeownership had grown from less than 40% of households owning their own home prior to the Great Depression to well over 60% of all households owning their own home).

Despite those successes, there have been both financial and psychological repercussions from the loose lending practices launched over 70 years ago. What have those repercussions been?

A History of US Real Estate Since the 1930’s

Let’s take a look at a few charts illustrating how real estate has reacted since the implementation of FHA standards.

Home Prie Index

Home Value to Income

Home Price Inflation Population

Data courtesy of Robert Shiller, Standard and Poor’s, and the US Census Bureau. Charts created by Nicholas Rossolillo.

Let’s start with the first chart, the Case-Shiller home price index. Home values are indexed to 1890 property sales prices, and account for inflation rates (basically meaning that inflation is subtracted out, and we are left with property values in today’s dollar figures). Chart number two illustrates the ratio between home values and total household income. The historical average has been roughly 2.2 (stated another way, a home value is 2.2 times your annual pay), but that ratio starts to rise rapidly starting in the late 1980’s and now hovers around 3.5. Chart three compares the Case-Shiller index from chart one with inflation and population growth (notice the uncorrelated price of real estate compared with steady population growth, but the inverse relationship property has with inflation and interest rates).

What do we learn? You can see in the charts the depressed values of real estate through the 1930’s. As new lending standards got under way in the late 30’s and through World War II, real estate makes a sudden and dramatic jump up. As that period gives way to rising interest rates and eventually high inflation, real estate stagnates for a roughly 30 year period. Inflation and interest rates started a steady downtrend in the 80’s, and combined with another round of slow easing of lending practices, we see property values run up again very quickly through 2006. As seen in chart two, the spike in property value as a ratio to income is also concerning, as that ratio remains well above the historical average even post-2008 financial crisis.

Chart three shows that, despite what many people believe, real estate is uncorrelated with population growth (more people does not always translate into an increase in demand, which in turn does not always lead to an increase in price). Instead, inflation and interest rates paired with current lending practices are a much more useful proxy for home values. It is also concerning that current home values remain at historic highs when factoring in inflation and the average family pay check.

Real Estate and Your Financial Plan

For anyone looking to purchase a home, remaining cautious would be the course of wisdom. Buying a home is big decision. For most Americans, a home purchase likely means a purchase of their largest asset. That asset purchase can have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. Keep in mind that, despite what many claim, real estate values do not ALWAYS go up. Sometimes the stay flat. Sometime they go down. Sometimes they go down and stay down for a very long time. The above charts demonstrate this fact.

Here are a few tips for home buyers:

  1. Purchasing a home is not an investment, it is the purchase of a commodity (a roof over your head). What is your long-term plan? Is this home an acceptable place to put down roots? What is the plan if you do have to move and you are not able to sell (the assumption that property values will be higher someday is not good enough)?
  2. What are your financial priorities, and what do you prefer to spend money on? Is it your place of residence, your car, travel, shopping, starting a family, etc.? For most of us, money is a limited resource. We cannot have it all, and therefore money should be prioritized and allocated according to what we deem most important in life. Are you spending your money on things that are truly important to you? In other words, do you have a budget?
  3. Beware of taking on too much house. Just because a lender (be it through a government subsidized program or otherwise) may be willing to lend you as much as 40-50% monthly debt payment to your gross monthly income does not mean you should take on that much of a payment. Living well within your means, if possible, is always the best course of action. If you decide to buy, how low can you realistically get your mortgage payment as a percentage of your income? I typically recommend that your mortgage payment for your primary residence be no more than 25% of monthly income.

Mortgage lending has undergone massive change in the US in the last 70 years, and that change has drastically altered the outlook many have on real estate and housing. A little historical and mathematical perspective can go a long way and can help us avoid the irrational decision making when it comes to home ownership that has ruined so many over the last decade.

Staying Calm When the World Isn’t

“The ideal of calm exists in a sitting cat.”—Jules Renard

It has certainly been a rocky start to 2016! Stock markets around the world have now seen a minimum of 10% declines, spurred on by a continued fall in oil prices, and a general panic amongst many investors. Indeed, emotions have ruled the last few weeks, bringing awareness to one of the most difficult parts of investing: sticking to a strategy in the midst of impulsive fear. No doubt many are wondering if this is the next 2008 (or 1907, 1929, 1987, 2000 etc.) and what we, your advisors, are doing about it. Hopefully this writing will give you much-deserved peace of mind, and a renewed confidence in our investment strategy.

First, let us start by saying we fully understand the fear that everyone is experiencing—the feeling of being sick to one’s stomach and the strong desire to sell. As difficult as it may be, we need to look at the investable landscape rationally, unclouded (as best we can) by emotional reaction, which studies have proven time and time again to reduce portfolio performance. Adherence to a strategy is one of, if not the most, important components of investing success.

What is the best reaction in times such as we have experienced in the last few weeks and months? Take a cat as an example: when on the hunt, it lays seemingly calm and patient, allowing the situation with its prey to unfold. When the time is right, they spring into action. For roughly the last year, we have been holding an excess of cash in accounts, waiting patiently for the right opportunity to present itself. This has had two benefits: first, it insulates us from excessive losses (such as over the last three weeks); and second, it allows us to go shopping after many other investors have found the exit and driven prices down steeply. Now that we have seen substantial drops in world markets, what is our strategy at Concinnity Financial? Here are a few key areas where we see opportunity:


  • Oil: High prices from 2008 to 2014 spurred exploration, ultimately leading to oversupply and the present price collapse. Current drastic cuts in exploration and production seem to be setting the table for the next long-term rise in prices.


  • Energy Sector: Many large energy companies are very attractively priced for the long-term. (Buy low, sell high!)


  • Emerging Markets: The collapse in energy prices and concern over China’s economy have driven markets downward in many developing countries. Many companies are attractively priced with large growth potential. (Today’s losers are tomorrow’s winners!)


  • United States Markets: We see a short-term (1-3 months) rebound, but a mid-term (over the next year) continued downtrend in stock prices.


  • Europe: Some countries are historically undervalued. The European Central Bank (the equivalent of our Federal Reserve Bank) seems committed to extending stimulus measures in efforts to boost the European economy.


In sticking to our strategy, selling after a 15% decline in the S&P 500 does not make nearly as much sense as does BUYING at presently discounted prices. In spite of all of the doom and gloom in the headlines, there were some exciting developments in the markets this week. Aggressive buying, and the corresponding sharp bounce in prices following session lows on January 20th, reinforce our belief in a short-term rebound. The chart below (UPRO, a fund that tracks the S&P 500 multiplied by three) illustrates how many investors were buying in late December at relative highs, and subsequently sold on the way down.



It is not a perfect science to time the market, or to avoid any and all portfolio losses. However, remaining objective and buying when many are fearful can lead to attractive purchase points on investments that we believe have strong future potential. Certainly, we are well aware of some portfolio constituents that have not lived up to expectations in the short-term. However, the recent market declines offer a great opportunity to lower our average purchase price and further capitalize on potential future rebounds. In the above chart, I believe we can all agree that the objective investor who SOLD high to the greedy at $64, and subsequently BOUGHT low from the panicked at $44, certainly made wise investment decisions that likely contradicted their emotions (and other investors) at the time.

In closing, in spite of our completely natural, emotional response to short-term market declines, it is vital to temper those feelings with a rational mindset. Our thinking when making purchases over the last three weeks was, “Hey! What great sale prices!” Over time, we hope to help you achieve the same mindset: one that avoids emotional pitfalls, and maintains a focus on longer-term portfolio performance. It is a continuing possibility that many investments will go “on clearance” in the near future. Let’s be determined to have the objectivity—and the cash on hand—to go shopping at those discounted prices, setting the table for future returns.


In confidence,

Nicholas Rossolillo and Stephen Ertel

Attack of the Robo-Advisors? Or Just a Cheaper Version of Your Human Advisor?

The last two decades have dramatically changed the world we live in. The internet, once a novel technological curiosity that was occasionally accessed after minutes of waiting through annoying dial-up noises, has penetrated every corner of our daily life. The resulting innovations in a relatively short period of time are astounding.

While still sluggishly ambling along behind many other sexier and innovative industries, the financial sector has witnessed some changes as well. Online DIY stock trading, the wide adoption of low-cost investment vehicles, the limitless flow of information (or disinformation) on financial markets at our fingertips, and the polarizing advent of crypto currency like Bitcoin have all caused disruptions and contributed to new innovations in the wide world of finance.

Despite the slew of new ideas, one area that has been notoriously digging in its heels is the investment advisory sub-industry. Investment advice has been around for quite some time, and it has become essentially a commodity. Everyone from your local bank, broker-dealers and investment banks, insurance companies, and tax preparation companies have all rushed to offer their two-cents on where you should be putting your money. Enter stage left a newcomer to the fray: the robo-advisor.


What Is a Robo-Advisor?

Before tackling this question (assuming you don’t already know), let me first review the historical “human advisor” experience for those of you who have avoided enduring such an activity. Whether you go to a broker-dealer, your bank, or any other place, the experience is roughly the same: a securities registered advisor (either in person or on the phone) takes down some information on your financial situation and recommends an investment portfolio “tailored” to you. How is a robo-advisor different?

A robo-advisor essentially limits the human interaction and intervention in your investment plan and portfolio. You enter your personal information online, and the robo-advisor provides you with an automated plan and portfolio allocation using various mathematical algorithms.

These technology driven advisors have really picked up momentum the last couple of years. Many of them have seen explosive growth, new startups have been created, and even some big name brokerage firms have been quick to pick up on the trend and now offer their own version of the service. But why the need for them in the first place?


Iatrogenesis and the Race to the Bottom

The two most common arguments I hear for automated robo-advisor investing are lower costs and the elimination of human error. The former is obvious, and represents a continued race to the bottom of the pricing barrel within the financial world. Commissions and fees are a drag on investment performance, so any way to reduce them represents a higher return to the investor (or so the argument goes, although this is a completely different topic). Thus the emergence of low cost index funds, DIY discount trading, and now the robo-advisor, with all of the above an attempt to cut out the “middle man” and reduce cost.

The second reason, and I think more intriguing of the two, is the attempt at elimination of human error that represents a drag on performance. It is no little-known fact that oftentimes investors, not excluding investment professionals, make mistakes that erode returns (think irrational and emotional decision making driven by fear or greed). Sometimes we get in our own way and cause more harm than good. The medical community knows this as iatrogenesis, or complications being caused by the medical professional, medical procedure, or treatment; basically restated, it means creating unintended consequences. Such iatrogenic decision making happens in all number of areas of consideration: environmental studies and human attempts to right their impact on our planet, a simple trip to the auto mechanic gone wrong, or probably every politician to have ever made a decision in the history of mankind. The investment community is obviously not immune to unintended consequences, be it from conflicts of interest a financial professional has to deal with, uninformed and uneducated decision making, or just simply fear and greed getting the best of a sound recommendation.

The hope of many, creators of robo-advisors and end users of them alike, is that automated decision making and portfolio management eliminates the human error from the system, therefore eliminating resulting performance drag and providing potentially higher returns (or at least more consistent returns) to the consumer. Simple enough, right?


My Thoughts and Ramblings on the Matter

Let me first state that I am all for technological advancement. I think the financial industry as a whole is especially ripe for innovation. If technology has advanced to the point that our job can be replaced or eliminated, it might be time to shift gears and move on.

That being said, to reason that human interference can ever be eliminated from any system, financial or otherwise, is total folly. Someone created the technology, someone told it how to act and behave, and therefore any design or assumption errors in the system will be present. Even if the principles and inputs backing up a new piece of innovation were perfect, external human error will never be eliminated; how will the system cope with such externalities? Mathematical and algorithmic trading and investing is not new; in fact, it has been around for a very long time (in the form of technical analysis especially). That being the case, it begs asking a few questions about investment strategy based on mathematical inputs, be it from a robo-advisor or from your traditional human in the flesh advisor:

‘What is the stated investment strategy of who or what I am working with? Historically, how closely have they stuck to that strategy?’

‘What has been the historical performance of who or what I am working with? What has been their strategy’s historical performance?’

‘Do I have the patience to stick with that strategy in a variety of market conditions? How do you judge if the strategy is broken and no longer working, and at what point would it make sense to change to a different one?’

‘Does the stated strategy make sense for my personal circumstances at this particular point in time?’

To round out this discussion, I do think there is a place in today’s world for the robo-advisor, algorithm based investing, mathematical based decision making, or whatever you want to call it. However, it would be naïve to think that human input and error can be eliminated. It is equally naïve to think that any mathematical equation can be developed to create the perfect investor experience. So what is the robo-advisor, really? Is it truly game-changing and revolutionary technology, or is it yet another new low-cost alternative designed to inveigle investors into doing business? If they do provide sound advice for you, great! If not, bad advice is still bad advice, no matter how little you spend on it.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Lower Oil and Gas Prices – How to Maximize Your Upside

By Nick Rossolillo, President, Concinnus Financial

March 10, 2015

I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.

Thus went the recommendation given to Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock in the 1967 movie The Graduate. Sound advice? Perhaps. Actionable advice? Dubious.

In a world where “advice” is easily obtained but rarely personalized, the real trick becomes how to apply it to your own situation. In a previous article you can find here, I outlined some of the reasons oil and gas has come down so dramatically in price in the last nine months or so. However, the actionable advice part of the post was lacking. This is a follow up to that article on how one might specifically put these lower prices to work for their own situation, whether as a business owner, or as an investor and saver.

Current Prices, Tax Deductions, and Discrepancies Between the Two

At the time of this writing, I filled up the gas tank at just over $2 a gallon. Having a 10 gallon tank in my car, that equated to just over $20. You have, no doubt, been experiencing something very similar, depending on your car (or truck) and which part of the country you are filling up in. It’s a pretty good feeling, since that leaves you a few extra bills in your wallet than it did last year (about a 60% savings in my particular case!).

If you use your car for work or you are self-employed, you probably know that the federal mileage deduction rate for 2015 is set at 57.5 cents per mile*. Let’s assume you get an average of 20 miles per gallon, your vehicle has a 10 gallon tank, and you use that entire tank of gas for business related activities. Your deduction would be $115 dollars, more than likely substantially higher than what you actually paid at the gas station. (Perhaps you do not drive for work, or as a business owner you do not take this deduction but instead write off actual costs of your business vehicle or vehicles. Hang with me, this is still applicable for you. We are all currently saving on our gas budget in some form or fashion.)

What are you doing with that savings? Is it being spent elsewhere, eating out, going on vacation, etc.? Or is it being put to work for you, either helping you catch up on bills or padding your savings account? If you answered yes to the former, here is a way for you to perhaps adjust your budget and start accumulating some extra funds. If you answered yes to the latter, congratulations! Let’s take your planning to the next level.

Ideas to Put That Cash to Work

If you believe that inflation is a real thing and that prices will always tend to go higher over the long-term, you are wise to accept current gas prices as a gift and stow away your savings for later. Here are a few ways you can get a little extra out of that savings:

  1. Increase the amount you are contributing to your retirement accounts. If you haven’t fully taken advantage of what your employer matches, increase your deferral to do so. If you already take advantage of your work-sponsored plan, consider starting a Traditional or Roth IRA. ᶱ
  2. Start a savings account earmarked for future gas consumption. As prices rise again in the future and start to cut into other parts of your budget, you have a cushion to fall back on.
  3. Consider a hedging strategy with what you have already saved. You can purchase oil and gas investments in your retirement savings, which you can assume are for future transportation costs when you retire. If you own a business or are self-employed, you can deposit savings into a business investment account, and hedge for a future increase in business expenses. If prices rise, you are growing current savings to hedge against future cost increases. If prices decline, your hedge is a wash as you continue to save money on your driving expenses.ᶲ

Any strategy you may choose to pursue should begin with a look at your budget as a whole (whether it is a business budget, personal budget, or both). Where is your money going? Is a decrease in spending in one category being allocated somewhere else? Is this re-allocation a necessity? How much are you saving overall? If you use one, consult with your financial professional regarding your budget and any tax strategies or investment strategies you employ as part of your business or personal financial planning. Consider consulting an accountant and/or investment advisor if you are unsure of how to structure any of the strategies just discussed for your business.

Final Thoughts

The drop in fuel costs caught many by surprise. Who would have guessed a year ago we’d see gasoline under $2 a gallon again? Or that we would see news headlines now espousing oil oversupply, after a decade of discussion about energy shortage and unsustainability? At the end of the day, though, treat the current circumstances as an opportunity. Don’t let it slip away, only to be a “remember when…” story recounted at summer barbecues and after-hour work parties. Find a way to put the situation to work and benefit from it down the road!


Nick Rossolillo is the president and founder of Concinnus Financial, based in Spokane, WA. He works with individuals and small businesses creating personalized investment portfolios and helping with financial planning. To contact Nick, visit, email him at, or call (509) 220-1895.

Content in this material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful. Investing involves risk and you may lose your principal.

*New Standard Mileage Rates Now Available; Business Rate to Rise in 2015.” IR-2014-114, Dec 10, 2014.;-Business-Rate-to-Rise-in-2015

ᶱIndividual Retirement Accounts (IRA) offer tax deferral on any earnings in the account. Withdrawals from the account may be tax free, as long as they are considered qualified. Limitations and restrictions may apply. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax. Future tax laws can change at any time and may impact the benefits of IRAs. Their tax treatment may change.

ᶲManaged futures are speculative, use significant leverage, may carry substantial charges, and should only be considered suitable for the risk capital portion of an investor’s portfolio.

The “Fiduciary Standard” – What Is It? Why Should We Care?

Nick Rossolillo, President, Concinnus Financial

March 3, 2015


On February 23, 2015, President Obama made comments about the “fiduciary standard” while speaking about retirement savings and investments at AARP’s offices in Washington, D.C. The comments were a call on the Department of Labor to draft new laws requiring financial professionals working with retirement assets to put client interests before their own. “Wait,” you may be saying, “How can such a thing be enforced? And how can I tell if my financial professional is working in my best interests?” You are not alone. The debate has been going on for quite some time within the financial industry, and was brought into the public’s awareness especially after the financial crisis.

Why the debate? What is the fiduciary standard? And how can you make informed decisions as an investor and saver?


History of the Fiduciary Standard

In the wake of the Great Depression, a slew of new regulations emerged in an attempt to crack down on sales practices in the financial world. Two such acts, which are relevant to our particular discussion, were the Maloney Act of 1938 (an amendment to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934), and the Investment Advisors Act of 1940.

The Maloney Act established the NASD, which has since morphed into what we now call the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (or FINRA). Among other duties, FINRA regulates broker-dealers, or individuals or companies who charge a commission to clients for selling stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.

The Investment Advisors Act of 1940 authorized the Securities and Exchange Commission (or SEC) to regulate investment advisors. An investment advisor charges a fee (either an hourly rate, a flat annual fee, or a percentage fee based on total account value) to clients rather than a commission.

Ok, are you completely bored yet, or are you still with me? What is the debate about exactly?


Commissions vs. Fees

In the aftermath of the world’s most recent economic crisis, heated debate has surfaced about the charging of commissions versus the charging of a fee. Many financial professionals who charge a commission (are a broker-dealer and are regulated by FINRA) have to reasonably believe that a recommended investment is “suitable” for the client. In contrast, professionals who charge a fee (are an investment advisor and are regulated by the SEC) are held to the “fiduciary standard.” Basically, the fiduciary standard is this:

  1. Investment advisors must make reasonable investment recommendations independent of outside influences.
  2. They must always place client’s best interests ahead of their own.

This is not to say that professionals who charge a commission do not follow this standard. However, only investment advisors regulated by the SEC are held to this fiduciary standard by law. At this point you are no doubt asking, “How do I know if my advisor is really acting in my best interests? I don’t read minds.”

The most recent proposal, brought up again on the 23rd of February, would enforce a fiduciary standard on all financial professionals handling retirement assets. This would be done by eliminating commissions and only allowing a fee to be charged for the handling of retirement assets. This would, in theory, eliminate conflicts of interest arising from the high commission investment products many financial companies offer.


Arguments For and Against Commissions-Based Investing

Those in favor of keeping commission based investments argue a few main points:

  1. Eliminating commissions would reduce the investment options investors have, since some investment types are offered mainly on this basis.
  2. Over the long-term, paying a commission instead of an ongoing fee is cheaper for clients.
  3. Enforcing a fiduciary standard will raise costs for financial firms, which will be passed on to clients in the form of higher fees.

There are a few assumptions this argument is making. First is that some investment vehicles only work if they are high cost on the front end (or that a commission is charged and paid). Second is that once a commission is paid, there are no additional client charges that occur within the investment vehicle. Third, an assumption is made that clients will hold, and be encouraged to hold, investments over the long-term, thus not incurring additional commissions.


Arguments For and Against Fee-Based Investing

Those in favor of fee-based standards argue this:

  1. Conflicts of interest arising from investment products being offered with a higher commission are eliminated.
  2. Client and financial professional interests are aligned when the financial professional’s pay is tied to investment performance.
  3. Investment decision making and advice is improved and becomes more objective.

Some of the arguments from the opposite angle arise here as well, specifically the ongoing cost argument. Why would a client interested in buying ‘investment XYZ’ and holding it indefinitely continue paying a fee every year for investment advice they don’t need? Also, a fee-based advisor faces a conflict of interest in that they may not offer other types of products (such as insurance) that is based off of a commission. Obviously, the two sides of the argument are not perfect.


What Can You Do?

Until some concrete decisions are made surrounding the debate, you as an investor have some decisions to make. Start by asking yourself a few questions such as this:

‘How knowledgeable and comfortable am I managing my own investments?’

‘What type of investment am I looking to make?’

‘Do I need financial advice outside of the decision making that goes on inside my investment portfolio?’

‘What exactly am I looking for in a financial professional? Is it product driven (i.e. you are investing for a future need, you currently require income, or you need a specific product like insurance) or relationship driven (you need someone who can answer your financial questions and provide education)?’

Also bear in mind that many professionals have a foot on both sides of the line. As an example, they may offer fee-based investment management but also offer insurance products that pay them a commission. When consulting a financial professional, make sure you know exactly what you are getting from them and how they are going to be paid.

Simply put, do your own homework! Make sure you understand costs, the nature of the costs you are being charged, and what you are getting in return.


Nick Rossolillo is the president and founder of Concinnus Financial, based in Spokane, WA. He works with individuals and small businesses creating personalized investment portfolios and helping with financial planning. To contact Nick, visit, email him at, or call (509) 220-1895.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing in securities is subject to risk and may involve loss of principal.