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If you’re an investment advisor, one of the quickest ways to run afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is to make statements in your Form ADV that you fail to execute. When this happens in connection with investment-advisory fees, the SEC will be especially unhappy with you. To motivate advisors to not play games with their fees, the SEC recently published a Risk Alert detailing the most frequent advisory fee and expense compliance issues they encounter.

Based on a review of 1,500 examinations and resulting deficiency letters over the last two years, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations identified the most common compliance issues that arise out of sloppy or deceptive advisor billing of consumer fees and expenses. They include:

  • Inflating the value of an account in order to generate higher fees. This results from practices such as using a different valuation metric than what was defined in the advisory agreement; calculating the account value at the end of a billing cycle rather than using the average daily balance; or including asset types such as cash equivalents, alternative investments, or variable annuities in the value calculation in violation of the agreement.
  • Manipulating the timing and frequency of fee billing in order to benefit the firm. For example, advisors may bill advisory fees on a monthly basis instead of the required quarterly basis or bill new clients in advance for an entire cycle rather than making a pro-rata adjustment.
  • Applying an incorrect fee rate. This tactic may include applying a higher rate to the calculated account value than is stated in the advisory agreement or Form ADV or charging a non-qualified client performance fees based on a share of capital gains in violation of the Advisors Act.
  • Omitting rebates and applying discounts incorrectly. Here, OCIE staff said advisors sometimes fail to aggregate account values as promised for multiple family members in the same household or never reduce the fee rate when the account value reaches an agreed-upon benchmark. They also may charge clients brokerage fees when they are in the advisor’s wrap fee program.
  • Making disclosures in their Form ADVs that conflicted with actual practices. For instance, advisors sometimes charge a fee rate higher than the maximum promised in their advisory agreements. Or they may bill for expenses unmentioned in their agreements (example: billing for third-party execution and clearing services that exceed actual fees charged by an outside clearing broker).
  • Misallocating expenses to clients rather than to advisors. This occurs in connection with distribution and marketing expenses, regulatory filing fees, and travel expenses that advisors charge to clients rather than properly allocating to themselves.

What should you do with this information? The OCIE provides three pieces of advice:

  • Assess one’s advisory fee and expense practices (and disclosures) to make sure they comply with the Advisor’s Act and related rules.
  • Based on this review, change or enhance your practices and procedures to assure compliance.
  • Reimburse clients for the overbilled amount of advisory fees and expenses.

This may not be what you want to hear, but it’s good advice. Full compliance with the law and if not, mitigation of any problems, including refunds paid to consumers, will always be the smartest strategy. Questions? Contact your compliance officer or attorney as soon as possible so you can avoid problems in case the SEC comes calling.


To read more on ethical business practices, visit the Ethics Center at the National Ethics Association, sponsor of EOforLess. 

Finding new clients and servicing your existing client base is more than a full-time job. Which means the last thing you want to do is spend time you don’t have on tasks you no longer need to do. Case in point: buying E&O insurance offline.

If you’ve bought errors and omissions insurance the old-fashioned way—that is, by speaking with brokers, getting multiple paper quotes, and applying and paying for it off the Internet—then you know how frustrating the process can be. It’s doubly annoying to spend time on antiquated insurance buying when you’re already pressed for time. It’s much better to click and bind your E&O insurance online, investing the time you save into more productive areas such as marketing, sales, or customer service.

Think about it: buying E&O insurance offline is so passé. Here are all the tasks that outmoded task involves:

  • Looking around for an E&O insurance broker, either by checking insurance-industry or yellow-page directories, Googling, or asking friends and colleagues for a referral.
  • Contacting each broker and setting up “get-to-know-you” meetings.
  • Speaking with each broker in person or over the phone to discuss your business and E&O insurance needs.
  • Waiting days or weeks for the brokers to shop their markets for an insurer with an appetite for your risk and the expertise to insure it.
  • Waiting even longer for the broker to package up several quotes from insurers in a hard-copy proposal.
  • Waiting for the proposal to arrive in the mail or via e-mail.
  • Reviewing the proposal and deciding which broker/insurer is most appropriate and cost effective.
  • Contacting the winning broker and making arrangements to pay for the policy.
  • Waiting for the insurer to process your payment and remit a coverage confirmation.
  • Receiving your new policy and reviewing it to make sure it’s correct.

Is it any wonder the insurance entrepreneurs at the National Ethics Association and its E&O insurance unit, EOforLess.com, envisioned a better approach? With their errors and omissions online portal, EOforLess.com, you can now buy professional liability insurance with zero aggravation in 10 minutes or less. Here’s what our simple online process entails:

  • Visit EOforLess.com.
  • Click on the specific type of E&O insurance you need based on your license type—i.e., life insurance agent, property-casualty insurance agent, registered investment advisor, or real estate agent/broker-owner. Then click on “see plans” to review the policies available for purchase.
  • Click on “view details” to drill down on your policy specifics. This will include a full list of features and benefits and other contractual items. If you are serious about due diligence, you can also download a complete specimen policy for careful reading.
  • After you review the details and decide the policy meets your needs, click on “buy now” to begin the purchasing process. This involves establishing an EOforLess account and selecting your payment and billing-frequency preferences.
  • Next, click on “Pay & Proceed to Bind Your E&O,” which will bring you to the underwriting screen.
  • If you can answer “no” to all of the underwriting questions, click “pay” to purchase and bind your errors and omissions insurance coverage.
  • Finally, click “print” to receive your errors and omissions insurance proof of coverage. This is the document you’ll provide to your FMO and the insurers with whom you have appointments.

Could buying E&O insurance be any easier? And could the advantages of online buying be any more compelling? For example, when you buy E&O insurance from EOforLess.com, you will be able to get an insurance certificate in just a couple of minutes. This is important when a client has a unique need for insurance for which you need to secure a new insurer appointment. Immediate click and bind allows you to get appointed and close the sale without delay.

Or what if you’re new to the industry and need to find E&O insurance right away? Since you don’t know many people in the business yet, it will be hard to get referrals to a good E&O insurance broker. Rather than spin your wheels, you can just buy your coverage in minutes from EOforLess.com.

Finally, if you lapse your current E&O policy by mistake and don’t want to reinstate it with your prior insurer, you can secure a new one in minutes from us, minimizing a potentially dangerous E&O coverage gap.

Any way you look at it, click and bind is the way to go when buying E&O. And EOforLess.com is your place for quality coverage at a price you can afford. Is your policy up for renewal soon? Then visit the pioneers of click and bind today for an E&O solution you’ll appreciate tomorrow.

 

When it comes to E&O insurance, surprises are the last thing you need. For example, if a client begins to threaten you with a lawsuit, you want to know your E&O insurer will stand behind you, not that there isn’t enough coverage left in the policy to protect you. Similarly, there are many nuances in E&O policies that may catch you by surprise if you haven’t uncovered them ahead of time. Here are seven common examples.

  1. Did you know that all “claims made” policies aren’t made equal? Some policy forms are a purely claims made design, while others are “claims made and reported.” The difference? The latter provide coverage only if you file a claim within the policy term or within a short period thereafter. If you try to file the claim after either of those two-time frames, you may find yourself without coverage. Solution: read your policy to confirm which type you have.
  2. Does your policy cover your specific duties? To find out, read your policy’s insuring agreement to see how it defines professional services. It will typically be quite explicit about whom and what it covers. For example, one life insurance agent E&O policy has this definition: “Coverage is limited to general agents or agents with valid licenses in a client’s state or jurisdiction, as well as the general agent’s or agent’s state or jurisdiction, and who are involved in the sale or servicing of life, accident, and health insurance, disability insurance, and indexed or fixed annuities. Covered duties also include financial planning and supervision and training of agents.” The key point? Your actual duties must align precisely with the policy language in order for you to have coverage under the policy. For example, if you have a sideline real estate business, you will not be covered under this policy because those activities aren’t listed in the insuring clause.
  3. Are you familiar with your policy’s exclusions? One of the most common ways E&O policies surprise agents is when they file a claim and the insurer tells them an exclusion applies. If this has ever happened to you, you know how infuriating it can be. Solution? Whenever you purchase a new E&O insurance policy, immediately read the exclusions list. Doing so, for example, will show you’ll have no coverage for claims arising out of litigation that occurred before the policy’s effective date or were in process on that date. Or that E&O claim payments that benefit a family member won’t be covered. Or that financial advisors will not be covered for E&O losses if they use or disclose confidential client information or non-public information. There will be a dozen or more scenarios in which you might assume coverage, but that your policy, in fact, excludes. Study your contract so you know exactly what exclusions apply.
  4. Are you aware of the nuances of coverage limits? The first is the difference between per-claim and aggregate limits. As its name suggests, the former establishes a maximum dollar amount that can be paid on a given claim from an insured. The aggregate limit refers to how much coverage is available for multiple claims from one insured in a given year. However, shared limits introduce a further complexity. Here multiple people within a firm may be covered under one master policy with a limit that applies to every agent and/or advisor insured under the policy. So if the firm suffers a large number of E&O insurance claims in a year, which consumes the entire shared limit, you will be out of luck if you need to file a claim later.
  5. Did you know that some E&O insurance policies apply the stated deductible for all claims filed in a policy period? So if you have five claims and your deductible is $1,000, you will be on the hook for $5,000. Other policies provide for an aggregate deductible for multiple claims. In the example given, this might limit your deductible to only $2,000 in E&O claim outlays in a given year.
  6. Have you heard of E&O policies that apply your deductible to legal fees as well as to claim payouts? Policies with so-called defense-and-loss deductibles make you pay for legal fees up to the deductible amount even if the claim is ultimately proved groundless. Compare that to E&O insurance policies with first-dollar deductibles, which only require you to pay if you’re found liable and a claim payout is required. Obviously, the latter type is more appealing.
  7. Finally, does your claims made E&O policy have an extended reporting period or “tail” provision? This will allow you to file a claim even after your policy expires, as long as the wrongful act happened prior to the end of the policy period. Although most E&O policies have this feature, the length of the period can vary. EOforLess’ life/health agent E&O policy has an unlimited extended reporting period. This can be important if you are planning to sell your business.

E&O insurance policies for life and health insurance agents, P&C agents, registered investment advisors, and real estate agents and broker/owners have many other nuances. To make sure your business is fully protected, carefully read your policy’s fine print. This way, in the unfortunate event you need to file a claim, you will avoid nasty surprises that put you at risk.

But here’s the good news. Many of these surprises can be avoided entirely by purchasing the right policy in the first place. By reading specimen policies before you buy, you can select one from a company that doesn’t impose restrictive provisions. Shopping carefully can literally save you tens of thousands of dollars or more at claim time. Worth the extra work? You bet!

If you’re like most people, your old habits may die hard. For example, you may have started buying E&O insurance decades ago in the usual fashion . . . shopping for an agent, requesting a quotation, filling out a paper application, then waiting days or weeks for your E&O policy to arrive in the mail.

That process served its purpose for a long time. But thanks to the advent of new technology, it’s no longer the best way to buy E&O insurance. Instead, many financial professionals today shop for and buy their professional liability insurance online. Tens of thousands of them each year would do it no other way.

It’s not hard to see why. Consider the disadvantages of buying it the old-fashioned way:

  • It’s harder to identify providers of E&O insurance. Without the Internet, you’d be forced to ask friends and colleagues for referrals. Depending on their experience, you might end up with only one or several buying options.
  • Your ability to shop for the best features will depend on your agent’s knowledge. If the person lacks awareness of certain key features, then he or she might not bring them to your attention.
  • Your agent might discourage you from running “what if” scenarios, which can have a big impact on pricing, because they can be time-intensive to complete.
  • Once you select an E&O insurer and your desired coverage amounts and other policy options, you request a formal quotation from your agent who decides which carrier(s) to submit it to. This might take days or weeks based on how busy the agent is.
  • Once you receive several price quotes from different insurers, you select one and then submit a paper application to that firm. Hearing the underwriting results might take days or weeks.
  • Once you hear your policy has been approved, you pay for it, typically by sending a paper check to your agent or insurer. Postage will be on you.
  • Days or weeks later, you will receive your policy and proof of insurance. If you need additional coverage certificates, you’ll have to ask your agent or insurer for them.

If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Complicated and time-consuming. Using an analog process, it often took days or longer to shop for and purchase E&O insurance. In light of this burden, is it any wonder so many agents went uninsured?

Now, let’s consider the contemporary online alternative:

  • To shop for E&O insurance, you simply enter an appropriate search term into your Internet browser application. The leading online E&O providers generally appear on page one of your search engine results. Click on the ones that interest you to learn more about their firms and offers.
  • Based on your needs, click on the type of E&O protection you’re interested in. For example, if you’re a life agent, select the coverage for life and health insurance professionals. If you’re a P&C insurance agent, RIA, or real estate agent or broker-owner, select the coverage that fits your license and professional duties.
  • Once you’ve drilled down on coverage type, take a look at the pricing and read the provider’s explanations and disclosures. Most will have specimen policies available for downloading, so you can carefully check specific provisions.
  • If the policy meets your needs, provide the firm with your personal and firm information, answer the underwriting questions, and decide on how you’ll pay for the policy. You’ll provide all of this information via online forms that are easy and quick to fill out.
  • After you’ve submitted your electronic application and payment information, wait a minute or two for the provider’s e-commerce platform to process your personal and payment information and then provide your insurance certificate.
  • Finally, print out your certificate for your files and for any insurance FMOs, securities broker-dealers, or registered investment advisors you work with, now or in the future.
  • Depending on the payment method you select, your checking account or credit card will be billed automatically. And when your policy period expires, you’ll be reminded to renew your policy, typically via an e-mail.

Bottom line? The old-fashioned method is more complicated and takes a lot longer than the online method. In this day and age, when time is at a premium, it no longer makes sense to shop the old way. Savvy financial professionals use the Internet to buy E&O insurance because it’s the quickest, most efficient, and easiest method available. If you’re not among them, ask yourself why and consider becoming a modern shopper next time.

When you’re ready to make your move, visit EOforLess.com, sponsor of E&O insurance for financial professionals since 2008. We’ll lay out all your options, walk you through the buying process, and generate your coverage certificate in just a few minutes, not days or weeks. Isn’t it time you bought your E&O insurance the contemporary way from the firm that invented online E&O buying . . . EOforLess.com!