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ERISA Plan Sponsors Wonder: Do Web-Site Alexa Ratings Suggest Victory for Fiduciary Standard?

September 21
00:34 2010

As the SEC ponders whether to adopt a universal fiduciary standard, ERISA plan sponsors are left to wonder if their plans will suddenly fall out of compliance. Who’s got the upper hand in the debate? With thousands of comments submitted 343027_6040_captain_stars_stock_xchng_royalty_free_300to the SEC, one might contemplate how to judge between “real” comments and “ballot stuffing” (and, for that matter, if there’s a distinction at all between these two concepts).

Fiduciary News surveyed recent public statements to determine where large industry groups fall in the debate. We then looked at publicly available Alexa statistics to assess the heft of the particular organization. Here’s a quick note about Alexa ranks: The lower the number the better (Google is ranked #1). The higher the number of links the better. All Alexa data is as of September 20, 2010. We’ll show you the raw data first, then provide our analysis – and an important caveat.

Organizations in Favor of the full Fiduciary Standard:

CFA Institute www.cfainstitute.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 27,584
  • US Rank: 21,880
  • Links: 1,010
  • Online Since: 1/24/04

North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) www.nasaa.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 391,305
  • US Rank: 160,396
  • Links: 587
  • Online Since: 9/16/96

Investment Advisers Association www.Investmentadviser.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 7,505,776
  • US Rank: Not Reported
  • Links: 23
  • Online Since: ???

Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards, Inc. www.cfp.net

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 204,764
  • US Rank: 61,544
  • Links: 530
  • Online Since: 11/16/98

Financial Planning Association www.fpanet.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 198,445
  • US Rank: 48,324
  • Links: 679
  • Online Since: 4/13/99

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) www.napfa.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 412,166
  • US Rank: 57,563
  • Links: 418
  • Online Since: 11/1/95

Organizations Not in Favor of the full Fiduciary Standard:

National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA) www.naifa.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 694,977
  • US Rank: 280,535
  • Links:  2oo
  • Online Since: 4/17/99

Financial Services Institute www.financialservices.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 6,365,430
  • US Rank: Not Reported
  • Links:  31
  • Online Since: 4/7/02

Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association www.sifma.org

  • Alexa Traffic Rank: 472,738
  • US Rank: 166,504
  • Links:  394
  • Online Since: 9/29/05

On the face of it, it appears the “Pro” fiduciary standard groups get more internet traffic as measured by both their Alexa Traffic Rank and the US Rank. Neither, however, comes close to the Alexa statistics of the Department of Labor (www.dol.gov). The government site has an Alexa Traffic Rank of 13,453 and a US Rank of 2,821. In addition, the DOL is linked to 10,017 sites. Bear in mind, however, the DOL caters to a wider range of issues than any of the above sites.

If you believe each organization is sympathetic to the position of those visiting the site, it seems many more people are aligned with the fiduciary standard. If the SEC finds evidence to corroborate this (and some surveys have already done this), they might be more inclined to go ahead and adopt that standard (lest they risk a potential backlash from the majority opinion). In adopting the fiduciary standard, any ERISA plan sponsor currently using a broker instead of a registered investment adviser may – or may not – have an issue. Circumstances will be different among plans, so a blanket statement cannot reasonably be made. Instead, plans would best be advised to contact their legal and compliance experts to determine the best course of action.

Now for the caveat: There’s a potential problem with relying on Alexa statistics. While Alexa does count all computers that are “watching” a site, it only counts those computers that have installed the (free) Alexa plug-in in the browser being used. As a result, some suspect Alexa statistics give preference to the more technologically savvy user. Furthermore, there are many web-sites that purport to identify how to increase your Alexa rank. While we don’t know if these methods work, if it is possible to artificially increase a site’s Alexa rank, it will call into question the credibility of all Alexa numbers.

As they say, caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Audience statistics may imply a stronger belief in the fiduciary standard – or they may not.

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About Author

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

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