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PBS Documentary "The Retirement Game" Slams Financial Brokers, Advisers

PBS Documentary Slams Brokers and Advisers for Putting Their Own Interests Ahead of Investors’

Brokers and financial advisers across the country were slammed for putting retirement savers at risk in last week’s PBS documentary The Retirement Gamble.”

The documentary highlights the problems with 401(k)s and other actively managed funds, and blames advisers for steering investors into high-fee investments for their own profit.

It also discusses index investing and the national shift from pension plans to defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s.

Zvi Bodie, an economist at Boston University; Assistant Secretary of Labor at US Department of Labor Phyllis Borzi; Vanguard Founder John Bogle; Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist at The New School; President of Prudential Retirement Christine Marcks; Helaine Olen, author of “Pound Foolish”; and Jason Zweig, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, are all speakers in the film.

According to Ghilarducci, 401(k)s are “one of the only products Americans buy that they don't know the price of it.”

“It's one of the products Americans buy that they don't know its quality,” she says. “It's one of the products Americans buy that they don't know its danger.”

Representatives sell the products and other actively managed funds, according to Ghilarducci, because there is money in them.

“Basically, your guy is out for himself to maximize his sales, and the way he does it is to be loyal to the mutual fund,” she says. “They try to sell you the most profitable products.”

Bogle also expresses his concerns about financial representatives, saying brokers may be making financial arrangements with fund firms in order to line their own pockets.

"The brokers are getting a little religion here,” he says. “They're saying, 'Why should I distribute your funds unless you pay me to? You get these big management fees — I want some of it. You're getting plenty. Give me some.'”

While the film did have its share of critics, there were many more supporters. The AARP called the film a “wake-up call on 401(k) fees” for investors, 70% of whom don’t know they pay any fees at all. A piece in Forbes magazine called the documentary “excellent,” and said watching it would help investors understand why millions of Americans are, like PBS correspondent Martin Smith, too broke to stop working.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) also praised "The Retirement Gamble," saying it made a strong case for “fee-only” planning and calling it a “wake up call for legislators and regulators to finally do something to protect American investors.”

“PBS Frontline put a spotlight on how commissions, hidden fees and expenses can devastate the average consumer’s retirement savings and how the lack of a fiduciary standard leaves investors unprotected,” said the NAPFA in a statement.

“While broker-dealers largely want to maintain the status quo, Americans are struggling to make ends meet and save for their futures —they deserve the protection of a fiduciary standard from every professional who touches their financial lives.”

Watch the film and readinterviews with Bogle, Olen, Ghilarducci, and others here.

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