I recently wrote about the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) and its improved BrokerCheck service, which exists to help us separate the wheat from the chaff among brokers clamoring for our business. Good enough, right? Well, apparently, it may not be enough.
It's a good place to start, though. The NASD, now known as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), lets you do the following through its BrokerCheck service:
- Access BrokerCheck 24 hours a day online.
- Find information on firms or individuals more easily.
- Immediately get details about "disclosure events" (including criminal actions and customer complaints).
- Learn more about what these events mean.
- Look up 10-year employment histories for brokers, as well as bankruptcy proceedings and employment terminations.
- See which exams an individual has passed.
Best of all, BrokerCheck is free. It can be worthwhile to spend a little money, though, to gather more information. Enter former SEC Enforcement Branch Chief and consumer advocate Pat Huddleston, who recently started a new company, Investor's Watchdog (investorswatchdog.com), that "arms investors with intelligence and expertise designed to protect them from broker misconduct, excessive risk and professionally disguised investment scams."
What Watchdog offers
Huddleston points out that BrokerCheck reports sometimes omit some important information (such as when a broker's record has been whitewashed). Thus, for a fee, he offers more thorough reports on brokers. According to Huddleston, "Investor's Watchdog's BrokerSnapshot report includes more information than the reports available from FINRA because IW gathers information from multiple sources. IW's broker ratings take into account not only the information on the individual broker, but also the employing firm's reputation for supervising (or failing to supervise) its brokers." The reports also include an opinion on the broker in question.
In reading about the service, I learned that even seemingly innocuous changes, such as a new supervisor or branch manager at your broker's office, can increase pressure to sell you unsuitable investments. It's obvious, perhaps, but I hadn't thought of it, and perhaps you haven't, either. If your broker is suddenly working for someone with high demands and few scruples, you may be looking at trouble ahead.
A basic Investor's Watchdog's BrokerSnapshot report will cost you $89. That's not insignificant, but it can become so when you consider that a dastardly broker might cause you to lose many thousands of dollars.
So should you order some reports immediately? Well, that depends on how you feel about your broker. I don't deal with brokers, so I haven't had to use the service. But if you do, take a look at the Watchdog service and see what you might learn from it.
Find the best brokerage
Meanwhile, make sure that the brokerage you're using is best for your needs. Odds are, you can find a better brokerage that charges you less or offers more services. Spend a few minutes in our Broker Center, look at our comparison table, or check out our Foolish guide to finding the right brokerage.
And remember that at the FINRA website, you can check out the latest news on which firms have run afoul of the agency. Wells Fargo
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Try any of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.