Becker Friedman Institute
for Research in Economics
The University of Chicago

Research. Insights. Impact. Advancing the Legacy of Chicago Economics.

The Market for Financial Adviser Misconduct

April 2016
Mark Egan

We construct a novel database containing the universe of financial advisers in the United States from 2005 to 2015, representing approximately 10% of employment of the finance and insurance sector. Roughly 7% of advisers have misconduct records. At some of the largest financial advisory firms in the United States, more than 15% of advisers have misconduct records. Prior offenders are five times as likely to engage in new misconduct as the average financial adviser. Firms discipline misconduct: approximately half of financial advisers lose their job after misconduct. The labor market partially undoes firm-level discipline: of these advisers, 44% are reemployed in the financial services industry within a year. Reemployment is not costless. Following misconduct, advisers face longer unemployment spells, and move to less reputable firms, with a 10% reduction in compensation. Additionally, firms that hire these advisers also have higher rates of prior misconduct themselves. We find similar results for advisers of dissolved firms, in which all advisers are forced to find new employment independent of past misconduct or performance. Firms that persistently engage in misconduct coexist with firms that have clean records. We show that differences in consumer sophistication may be partially responsible for this phenomenon: misconduct is concentrated in firms with retail customers and in counties with low education, elderly populations, and high incomes. Our findings suggest that some firms specialize in misconduct and cater to unsophisticated consumers, while others use their clean reputation to attract sophisticated consumers.