Millions of Americans rely on professional advisors to oversee their personal finances. Financial-advisor misconduct has significant consequences for investors, so a wide range of federal, state, and self- regulatory institutions have authority to detect and deter such misconduct. But each regime takes meaningfully different approaches to these tasks, creating incentives for advisors, particularly those with a history of harming investors, to seek a more lax regulatory environment. Although academics and policymakers are engaged in heated debates over the regulation of financial advice, no prior work has identified these “wandering” financial advisors.
Using a novel dataset of 1.2 million advisors across four major regulatory regimes, this Article provides the first systematic analysis of wandering financial advisors. We show that a little over a third of advisors who exit the brokerage industry remain in at least one other regime, that advisors are significantly more likely to change regimes after committing serious misconduct, and that wandering advisors with a history of misconduct are significantly more likely to engage in future misconduct. Further, we find that wandering advisors with a history of serious misconduct disproportionately end up in the highly-fragmented state insurance regimes. We consider explanations for why advisors wander—and offer policymakers concerned about the costs of financial-advisor misconduct with tools to address this phenomenon.