Is Conflicted Investment Advice Better than No Advice?

52 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2011 Last revised: 15 Sep 2015

See all articles by John Chalmers

John Chalmers

University of Oregon

Jonathan Reuter

Boston College - Department of Finance; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 14, 2015


The answer depends on how broker clients would have invested in the absence of broker recommendations. To identify counterfactual retirement portfolios, we exploit time-series variation in access to brokers by new plan participants. When brokers are available, they are chosen by new participants who value recommendations on asset allocation and fund selection because they are less financially experienced. When brokers are no longer available, demand for target-date funds (TDFs) increases differentially among participants with the highest predicted demand for brokers. Broker client portfolios earn significantly lower risk-adjusted returns and Sharpe ratios than matched portfolios based on TDFs — due in part to broker fees that average 0.90% per year — but offer similar levels of risk. More generally, the portfolios of participants with high predicted demand for brokers who lack access to brokers comparable favorably to the portfolios of similar participants who had access to brokers when they joined. Exploiting across-fund variation in the level of broker fees, we find that broker clients allocate more dollars to higher fee funds. This finding increases our confidence that actual broker client portfolios reflect broker recommendations, and it highlights an agency conflict that can be eliminated when TDFs replace brokers.

Keywords: Advice; asset allocation; counterfactual; defined contribution; default; fund selection; target-date fund

JEL Classification: D14, G11, G23

Suggested Citation

Chalmers, John and Reuter, Jonathan, Is Conflicted Investment Advice Better than No Advice? (September 14, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

John Chalmers

University of Oregon ( email )

Lundquist College of Business
1208 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States
541-346-3337 (Phone)

Jonathan Reuter (Contact Author)

Boston College - Department of Finance ( email )

Carroll School of Management
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3808
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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