According to a recent academic paper, advisers at registered independent advisory firms (RIAs) with private equity stakeholders are more likely to engage in misconduct with clients. The paper is titled, "Private Equity and Financial Adviser Misconduct", and is published by researchers at the University of Oregon.
The researchers examined data from 2000-2020 from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and BrokerCheck, along with private equity-backed merger and acquisition data from Pitchbook. The researchers analyzed the data focusing on five types of misconduct events: civil proceedings, criminal proceedings, regulatory events, customer disputes and terminations. The study covered 57 RIAs, each averaging 250 advisers.
The research found that at RIAs with either minority or majority ownership by a private equity fund, rates of misconduct spike when those advisory firms have a higher growth rate of assets under management per adviser. The research results suggest a tension between advisory firms' profit motive and ethical business practices, especially when clients are financially unsophisticated.
The authors also conclude that advisers are on average 40 percent "cleaner" in terms of misconduct before they sell to a private equity fund. However, after a sale, those advisers become "on par with the industry average." The study found that misconduct increased in firms in which a private equity fund took a stake without completely buying out top executives and partners. Ultimately, the paper posits that private equity can potentially be bad for both the RIA and its clients.
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