Understanding Retrocession: Unveiling the Hidden Kickbacks in Financial Services

Explore how retrocession fees, often hidden from clients, can influence financial advisors' decisions and potentially lead to conflicts of interest in the wealth management industry.

Retrocession refers to kickbacks, trailer fees, or finder’s fees that asset managers pay to advisers or distributors. These payments are often done discreetly and are not disclosed to clients, although they use client funds to pay the fees.

Retrocession commission is a heavily criticized fee-sharing arrangement in the financial industry because money flows back to marketers for their efforts in raising interest for a particular product. Therefore, this raises the question of impartiality and favoritism on the part of the advisor. The system would seem to encourage advisors to promote funds or products because they will receive a fee for doing so, not because the products are the best option for the client.

Key Takeaways

  • Retrocession fees are kickbacks to wealth managers or other money managers that are provided by a third party.
  • Retrocession commission is controversial in the financial world because money flows back to marketers for advocating specific products.
  • Retrocession fees are typically recurring, with one-time kickbacks usually called a finder’s fee, referral fee, or acquisition commission.
  • Types of retrocession fees include custody banking, trading, and financial product purchases.

Understanding Retrocession

Retrocession fees are commissions paid to a wealth manager or other new money managers by a third party. For example, banks often pay retrocession fees to wealth managers who partner with them. The bank will encourage and compensate the managers for bringing business to the bank. Banks may also receive retrocession fees from third parties, such as investment funds, for distributing or promoting specific financial products.

Some consider retrocession fees a dubious compensation model because they can influence a bank or wealth manager’s decision to recommend products that may not be in the best interest of their clients. This suggestion of an investment product where the advisor receives retrocession appears inherently problematic. However, the suggested product is usually suited for the client, as they are mostly high-quality investment products, such as mutual funds. But the issue remains of motivation and agenda, where some advisors might favor a product with an attached compensation over one without, despite both being almost equal in suitability.

Types of Retrocession

Retrocession fees typically refer to recurring compensations, as opposed to a one-time deal. A one-off payment is generally called a finder’s fee, referral fee, or acquisition commission.

1. Custody Banking Retrocession Fees

Custody banking retrocession fees occur where a wealth manager receives compensation for attracting a new customer who brings that customer’s investment funds into the custody institution. With frequent changes in the service provider association, a wealth manager can generate retrocession fees that benefit them financially but do not necessarily benefit their client.

2. Trading Retrocession Fees

Trading retrocession fees are compensation for various trading transactions, such as buying and selling securities. The more sales that occur, the higher the retrocession fees become. Because most trades include a brokerage fee for the transaction, the cost is often passed onto the customer, benefiting the money manager.

3. Financial Product Purchase Retrocession Fees

Financial product purchase retrocession fees are part of the recurring total expense ratio (TER), which customers must pay and are typical with investment funds. These recurring sums flow back to the client acquirer. Because the total expense ratio is charged to the customer each year, the acquirer receives retrocession fees every year as recurring commissions.

Real-World Example

In 2015, JP Morgan settled a case with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for $267 million. The SEC stated that JP Morgan selected third-party hedge funds based on hedge fund managers’ willingness to provide fees to a bank affiliate. In these instances, the bank did not inform clients that it suggested and preferred the mutual funds willing to share their royalties, thus implying no particular partiality. The JP Morgan settlement was significant as it was the first time the term retrocession was introduced to U.S. investors.

Related Terms: finder’s fee, referral fee, acquisition commission, total expense ratio, mutual funds, brokerage fee.


  1. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “J.P. Morgan to Pay $267 Million for Disclosure Failures.”

Get ready to put your knowledge to the test with this intriguing quiz!

--- primaryColor: 'rgb(121, 82, 179)' secondaryColor: '#DDDDDD' textColor: black shuffle_questions: true --- ## What is retrocession in the context of financial services? - [x] The commission paid by a third-party financial advisor or broker to a financial intermediary - [ ] The gain earned on retroactively applied investments - [ ] The return of assets to their original owner - [ ] A penalty for withdrawing investments early ## Which parties are typically involved in a retrocession agreement? - [ ] Individual investors and the central bank - [ ] Only financial advisors - [x] A third-party financial advisor or broker and a financial intermediary - [ ] Banks and corporate businesses ## How does retrocession typically benefit financial intermediaries? - [ ] By offering increased control over investment choices - [ ] By ensuring higher returns for investors - [x] By providing additional commission income - [ ] By reducing their operational costs ## What is a common example of retrocession in practice? - [ ] Government bonds paying interest to investors - [ ] Stock dividends paid to shareholders - [x] A broker receiving a portion of the management fees from a mutual fund for referring clients - [ ] Interest accrued on savings accounts ## Which regulatory concern is frequently associated with retrocession? - [ ] Market volatility - [ ] Increased transaction costs - [ ] Real-time data access - [x] Conflict of interest ## Retrocession agreements are often subject to scrutiny because they may lead to what potential issue? - [x] Advisers favoring products with higher retrocessions over those better suited for clients - [ ] Lower liquidity in financial markets - [ ] Increased tax liabilities for intermediaries - [ ] Inconsistent trading practices ## Which regulatory body's actions led to higher transparency regarding retrocessions in Europe? - [ ] Federal Reserve - [x] European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) - [ ] U.S. Treasury - [ ] Bank of England ## How has regulation in certain regions impacted the practice of retrocession? - [ ] It has completely eliminated the practice - [ ] It has lessened market efficiency - [x] It has banned or restricted commissions paid based on product sales to increase impartiality - [ ] It has increased the financial intermediary's risk ## What is another term sometimes used interchangeably with retrocession? - [ ] Arbitrage - [ ] Dividend yield - [ ] Portfolio return - [x] Trailer fees ## Why might a financial advisor prefer a financial product that offers retrocessions? - [ ] For their clients' higher expected returns - [ ] Because of stringent regulatory enforcement - [x] To benefit from additional commission income - [ ] Due to the product's high liquidity