Definition of 'Soft Dollars'
A means of paying brokerage firms for their services through commission revenue, as opposed to through normal direct payments (hard dollar fees).
The investing public tends to have a negative perception of soft dollar arrangements because they believe that buy-side firms should pay expenses out of their profits, rather than from investors' pockets. As such, the use of hard dollar compensation is becoming more common.
Investopedia explains 'Soft Dollars'
For example, a mutual fund may offer to pay for research from a brokerage firm by executing trades at the brokerage.
Let's say that Large-Cap Value Fund (LCV) wants to buy some research from XYZ Brokerage Firm. LCV may agree to spend at least $10,000 in commissions for brokerage services in return for research from XYZ. This would represent a soft dollar payment. Alternatively, if LCV wanted to simply buy the research from XYZ and not agree to any kind of soft dollar fee, it might have to pay the brokerage firm $7,000 in "hard dollars" (cash) for the service.