Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mutual Fund A, B, C shares

When you recommend mutual funds to investors, part of your suitability obligation is to help determine the proper share class. An investor with, say, $100,000 and a long time horizon should be purchasing A-shares. She will knock down the front-end sales charge with her quantity purchase, and her expenses going forward will be significantly lower than on B- and C-shares. B-shares are suitable for an investor with a long time horizon and a smaller amount to invest. This investor will avoid the front-end sales charge, and as long as she holds the shares 6 or 7 years, the back-end sales charge will go away, and then her shares will convert to A-shares with their lower operating expenses. She will pay higher operating expenses, but due to her small amount of $ to invest, she couldn't reach a breakpoint on A-shares, anyway. This is her best option. C-shares charge high operating expenses, and, unlike B-shares, these things do not convert to A-shares. So, they are generally for investors with a short time horizon. We don't want to keep hitting them with high annual expenses for very long, but if the investor will only hold the shares, say, three years, C-shares are ideal. No need to hit her up with a big front-end sales charge if she's only going to hold the fund a few years. As long as the investment is under, say, $500,000, C-shares will be suitable for a short-term investment. And that implies that a larger investment--even over the short-term--would be more suitable in A-shares, since the front-end load would be knocked down so low and then the investor would also enjoy the low operating expenses going forward. In other words, it's freaking complicated. And that's why many firms end up getting fined millions of dollars and returning millions of dollars to over-charged customers. They don't have adequate training and supervision in place. The rep's don't know enough about the various share classes, or maybe--just maybe--they prefer making the highest compensation possible, regardless of what's best for the customer. When you read the news release at the link below, please know that I am absolutely not bashing Wachovia here--heck, I'm a Wells Fargo shareholder (they own them now), and I also sell a lot of Pass the 7(c) books, DVD's etc. to Wachovia employees all across the country. Every firm out there could provide us with dozens of similar fines and mishaps--the securities industry is complicated. No one can stay on the right side of the regulatory line all the time. I don't see a need to explain the UIT angle, since the FINRA news release does such an excellent job of bringing up the testable points. Check out the news release at :


  1. What about the no-load funds? They have no expenses, right?

  2. That's a very common question. The term "no-load" doesn't mean exactly what it seems to imply. It seems to imply that you get to invest your money without any financial burdens placed on your money at all. Not quite. A "no-load" fund simply does not charge an upfront or backend sales charge. It can still cover marketing/distribution expenses with an ongoing or "asset-based sales charge" called a "12b-1 fee." The 12b-1 fee can't exceed 25 basis points of net assets; otherwise, the term "no-load" has to be dropped, which isn't good for marketing purposes. T Rowe Price is "100% no-load," which means they have no sales charge and no 12b-1 fee. But, we're only focusing on one narrow issue here--remember that whether a fund has a load or not, it levies operating expenses. Even the low-cost ETF's can have operating expenses in the 1% range. See, all funds charge management fees and fees to cover legal, accounting, board of director and other compensation. Many charge 12b-1 fees, many as high as 1%. So, there are sales charges, and there are operating expenses. Not all funds have sales charges, but all funds have operating expenses. The investors don't get a bill for operating expenses, but the expenses lower the value of the investment as any big withdrawal of cash would do to the account.