When I had a chance to ask Barbara Roper, director of Investor Protection for the Consumer Federation of America, questions for a story, I had a feeling she'd come out in favor of adopting a universal fiduciary standard. What surprised me, though, was the frankness of some of her answers (see "Exclusive Interview with CFA's Barbara Roper: Why a Fiduciary Standard Helps All Investors and 401k Plan Sponsors," FiduciaryNews.com, May 21, 2013). Whether is pinpointing the blame for the fiduciary mess directly on the SEC to explaining why she has less fear of regulator inaction than improper action on the part of regulators. 

But what I found most compelling, and worthy of thought by all those fiduciary advocates out there, was her belief we should do away with the term "fiduciary duty." Unless and until we do so, despite her feeling investors are better off using a fiduciary advisor, she doesn't think fiduciary advisors will successfully market themselves. 

What term does she think should replace "fiduciary duty"? While it doesn't fully reflect the comprehensive nature of fiduciary duty, she says investors will respond more favorably to the phrase "acting in the best interest of the client." By odd coincidence, given last week's article on what "Star Trek" teaches us about fiduciary, there's a scene in the current movie that exemplifies this. Captain Kirk, acting in his fiduciary capacity on behalf of his ship and crew, turns the ship over to Mr. Spock. Kirk didn't say, "Spock, I'm doing this because it's my fiduciary duty." No, he told Spock his decision reflects "the best interests of the ship and crew." 

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).