Soft Dollar Brokerage - Issues of Disclosure and Transparency in Bundled Institutional Soft Dollar Brokerage Arrangements

Yesterday someone asked me a question about the American Century Funds. I thought a bit, then connected American Century to American Century’s Sr. Vice President, Harold Bradley, who you may remember stated in his Congressional Testimony in 2003(1) that soft dollar brokerage was an approximately 1.2 billion dollar per year drain on investors’ assets.(2)

In 2003, after reading Mr. Bradley’s testimony, and realizing that he derived his estimate from a Greenwich Consulting Survey, I reviewed the Greenwich Survey, found the flaw in Greenwich’s questionnaire and I algebraically computed a more accurate annual drain on investors assets from (all) soft dollar brokerage arrangements. I recall Integrity Research Associates published an article I wrote about the survey question, and the computational error.(3)

At that time, I sent letters describing the survey error and the computational error to the then Chairman of the SEC, Christopher Cox, to staff members of the SEC’s Office of Compliance, Inspections and Examinations (OCIE), to Greenwich Associates, to Senator Christopher Dodd, and to Harold Bradley at American Century Funds. I never received replies from any of these recipients.

When I was asked about American Century Funds yesterday, I connected the funds’ name American Century to American Century’s Senior Vice President, Harold Bradley. And, I was interested in doing a key words search on - Harold Bradley soft dollars – just to find out if he got my message.

I was pleased to see that Mr. Bradley is now quoted as estimating soft dollar brokerage costs at “about 12 billion dollars a year . . .” however, he doesn’t explain where the other 10+ billion per year in his estimate comes from.(4) I suspect the new 10+ billion of soft dollar brokerage Mr. Bradley now includes in his estimate is the non-transparent soft dollars which institutional investment advisors generate in bundled undisclosed soft dollar arrangements with full-service brokerage firms' institutional trading desks.

It would be interesting to know if 10+ billion still is actually a good current estimate of total institutional soft dollar brokerage. It seems to me that competition, new transaction efficiencies, and trading cost compression would force a smaller portion of total institutional brokerage commissions to be used in 'paid-up' soft dollar brokerage arrangements. (It seems in the current environment of very high quality transaction cost analysis, it would raise questions if investment advisors paid significantly higher brokerage commissions than what is required to compensate the executing broker for the broker’s fully-negotiated costs of transaction execution.

[In mid-2007, after SEC Chairman Christopher Cox sent letters, to Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, requesting that “Congress consider repealing or substantially revising Section 28(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934”(5) In his letters Chairman Cox mentioned the potential investment effects of an excess of 1 billion dollars of third party brokerage soft dollars.

At that time, I again sent a letter to SEC Chairman, Christopher Cox, to Senator Christopher Dodd, and to SEC Staff at the OCIE. In these letters I attempted to explain that the 1 billion dollars of  fully-disclosed institutional third-party soft dollar brokerage seem to invite far fewer abuses, and fewer conflicts-of-interest, than my estimated 6.5 billion dollars of  soft dollars institutional investment advisors generate in bundled undisclosed soft dollar arrangements with the institutional trading desks at full-service brokerage firms.] (6)

(1) From the supporting documents included in Mr. Bradley’s Congressional Testimony, it seemed obvious that Mr. Bradley’s estimate was based on a flawed survey produced by Greenwich Consulting.

(2) Harold Bradley’s Congressional Testimony on soft dollar brokerage March 12, 2003:

(3) Integrity Research article on the Greenwich Survey’s soft dollar brokerage question:

(4) Key-words-search on: Harold Bradley Soft Dollar Brokerage

(5) See, SEC Chairman Christopher Cox’ May 17, 2007 letter to Senator Christopher Dodd in which Chairman Cox requests that Congress “repeal or substantially revise Section 28(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934”, at:

(6) June 1, 2007 letter to SEC Chairman, Christopher Cox and U.S. Senator, Christopher Dodd which discusses the true magnitude, and potential for abuse, of non-transparent undisclosed bundled soft dollar brokerage arrangements, at:

Other Relevant Resources:
(1) A brief history of soft dollar brokerage titled, “Thirty Three Years Later” Published September 2, 2008, at:

(2) Manager – Investor Conflicts In Mutual Funds By Paul G. Mahoney pub. Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol. 18 #2 Spring 2004 page 172 (which is page 12 of the linked .pdf) at: 

(3) Advisors Misreport Use of Soft Dollars By Sara Hansard published Investment News July 24, 2006, at: and

(4)  An example: SEC Press Release: SEC Charges Fidelity, Executives Employees For Accepting Lavish Gifts Paid For By Brokers pub. SEC Website, March 5, 2008, at: and Fidelity Investments Settles SEC Gift Lawsuit by Riley McDermid & Jonathan Burton - published MarketWatch, March 5, 2008 at:

(5) What motivated many of the abuses outlined in the SEC’s Spotlight On: The Global Analyst Research Settlement, at

Don't Forget The Role of The Rating Agencies

Don't forget the role of the rating agencies in the financial crisis. In the 1975 the U.S. Congress designated the Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (NRSRO's). When Congress passed the legislation anointing the NRSRO’s it gave this limited number of organizations oligopoly status and unique competitive advantage. At the same time, Congress appointed the Securities and Exchange Commission as regulator of the NRSRO's. 

Most investment advisors and portfolio managers use rating agency guidelines (ratings) to assist their evaluation of the quality and risk associated with the securities they purchase* and fiduciaries are restricted by law as to the minimum rating level from which they can select the investments they can purchase and manage. So, the rating agencies provide a seal of approval, so to speak, for the securities and companies they rate.

* In most cases, the ratings securities an investment advisor, or a portfolio manager will use are defined in a prospectus, offering circular, or by some other form of disclosure. 

If you would like to see a CEO of a rating agency squirm, watch and listen to, The Role of The Rating Agencies

and Too Little, Too Late