How often do you read the fine print? Or, ok, let's make the question more concrete... Have you read our site disclaimer? It sits at the very bottom of the page there, down in the footer, in a font that's a little smaller than our body text font so as not to annoy people, and it definitely qualifies as a kind of fine print. It's ok if you've never read it. It's not like we're asking you to sign away your rights based on what's in the disclaimer or anything--we're not your brokerage company or financial adviser. Because that's basically what they do. We'll come to the point: it's just as unlikely for you to read The Green Firm site disclaimer as it is for you to read the fine print in the agreement you signed with your brokerage or financial adviser that gets you to waive your right to file a claim against them in court or to participate in a class-action lawsuit. Don't know what we're talking about? Well... Chances are you already signed the agreement without even realizing what you were giving away. And that's exactly what the brokerages count on.
Fortunately, there's been a push recently by some politicians along with an influential member of the SEC to onsider adopting new rules that would prevent or restrict brokerages from forcing customers to sign away their right to sue. As things stand, if your broker loses all your money through chicanery or negligence and you want to sue him or her and their supervising brokerage firm, you will have to take your case before an arbitration panel administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA. No trial, no jury--just you, attorneys, and an arbitration panel. Now, brokerages like to argue (as credit card companies do as well) that binding customers to arbitration reduces legal costs and help with frivolous litigation. Well, fine, that's bully for them! But from where we sit--and it seems like more and more people are starting to agree with us--this arrangement doesn't just favor the interests of the big brokerages and advisers, it's unjust and, dare we say it, borderline UnAmerican.
Yeah, ok, we should all read the fine print. But realistically, as we demonstrated above, most people don't. This puts customers in the awful position of being fleeced not once but twice: first, when the brokerage gets them to sign away their right to sue or join a class-action suit; and then again when their advisers through negligence or misconduct lose the customer's hard-earned cash.