Objective information about financial planning, investments, and retirement plans

Financial Advice and Mini Bottles of Liquor

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Regular readers here know that the inspiration for some of my blog posts comes from non-financial sources such as youth soccer fields and the Rolling Stones.  In that spirit the idea for this post popped into my head while waiting in line to pay for an item at a local gas station.

Financial Advice and Small Bottles of Liquor

I noticed the clerk behind the counter restocking the very prominent display case with mini bottles of liquor of the type you would buy on an airplane.  When I asked if they sell a lot of these she indicated that I would be surprised and I was.  This is the last place that I would think of buying mini bottles of liquor.  My hope is that the contents are not being consumed en route from the gas station.

I liken this to some of the places that people seek financial advice.  Are you getting financial advice from someone best positioned to advise you or simply from where it is convenient to obtain it?  Here are a few thoughts on some of the alternative sources available to you when seeking financial advice.

Insurance companies and agents

We have had our auto, homeowner’s, and person umbrella policies with an agent affiliated with a major insurance company for years.  Our agent is great and has provided outstanding service.  His company made a big push into providing personal financial planning largely to tap into their vast customer base to try to sell various financial products to these customers.  When I asked my agent if he was now going to become a financial planner he just kind of grumbled as he wanted no part of this.

My experience is that insurance companies are looking to sell annuities and other insurance-based products as their answer to your financial and retirement planning needs.  Many of these companies also offer their own proprietary families of mutual funds and other investment vehicles.  As with anything you need to understand the motivations and capabilities of the person trying to sell these products to you.  Is this agent qualified to provide you with unbiased financial advice or do all questions lead to a solution that involves the sale of a variable annuity or a related product?

Banks offering financial advice

Many banks offer investment and financial advice across a number of formats.  It’s not uncommon to have a registered rep at the branch selling various financial products.  The bank may even have their own line of mutual funds and their own brokerage operation.

Other banks have in-house or affiliated investment advisory operations which offer investment and perhaps wealth management services for a fee as opposed to the commission-based services mentioned above.

Again banks view this as a way to expand their service offerings and broaden their revenue streams by tapping into their depositor base.  As with any financial services provider you need to understand what your bank offers, how they offer it, any potential conflicts of interest, and most of all if this type of arrangement is right for you. 

CPAs offering financial advice

CPAs have rightly earned a reputation as a trusted advisor, especially for business owners.  The good ones offer a range of tax and financial advice that is invaluable.  Many CPAs have ventured into the business of offering investment and financial advice as well.  They realize that this is an excellent revenue stream, often a better one than they can generate via their core business.

As with other providers of financial advice you want to understand that if your CPA is qualified to provide financial planning and investment advice as this is a different knowledge base than his or her normal world.  A few other considerations:

  • Does the CPA have specific knowledge or training here?  A designation such as the CFP® or the PFS (the CPA equivalent) can be good evidence of training and commitment to this area.
  • What happens during tax season?  Are they available to answer your questions and monitor your situation?
  • Is the advice offered as an RIA (Registered Investment Advisor) or via a Broker-Dealer type arrangement?  In the latter case the CPA is likely engaging in advice via the sale of commissioned financial and insurance products.   

Financial Planners 

The term financial planner can be used by anyone so you will want to understand a few things about how any financial planner operates before determining if this is the right advisor for you.

  • What are the financial planner’s credentials and training?  Does he/she hold a CFP® or some similar designation?
  • How is the financial planner compensated?  Fee-only?  Commissions?  A combination of fees and commissions?  It is important for you to understand if there will be any conflicts of interest involved in the delivery of financial advice.
  • What type of financial advice does the financial planner offer?  Hourly as needed?  Comprehensive financial planning? Investment advice and wealth management?  More importantly is this the type of advice that you need?
  • Who are the financial planner’s typical clients?  If you are 60 and nearing retirement an advisor who specializes in clients in their 20s and 30s is probably not the right advisor for you.
  • Check out NAPFA’s guide to finding an advisor for some tips on choosing the right financial advisor for you.  

I’m often puzzled by the process used by many folks in choosing a financial advisor, but I guess it is no stranger than buying mini bottles of liquor at a gas station.  Choosing the right financial advisor can be very rewarding, choosing the wrong advisor can have a devastating impact on your financial life.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.

Please check out our Book Store for books on financial planning, retirement, and related topics as well as any Amazon shopping needs you may have (or just click on the link below).  The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra.

  

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Financial Advisors to Follow on Social Media

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For those of you who are regular readers here you know that I publish list posts very infrequently, so two in a row is a real rarity.  However both the nature of the list below and the fact that I am in and out of the office about equally this week convinced me to go this route.

BrightScope, a leading provider of independent financial information and research, just released their first Social Influence Rankings for Financial Advisors.

While I was astonished to be number three on this list, I am flattered to be included on a list that includes a number of people whom I admire and learn from.  This list includes Jim Blankenship, George Papadopoulos, and Russ Thornton who I’ve followed from the onset of my involvement in social media.

Josh Brown, Carolyn McClanahan, Neal Frankle, Jeff Rose, Jason Hull, Jude Boudreaux, Alan Moore, Sheri Cupo, and Tom Brakke are others who I follow on a regular basis.   I plan to become familiar with the rest of this list and learn from them as well.

If you are looking for good information about investing, financial planning, retirement, and related financial topics this list is for you.

BrightScope’s 2013 Top Social Influencers in the United States:

Advisor Pages Profile – Blog – Twitter Handle

1. Josh Brown - The Reformed Broker - @ReformedBroker
2. Barry Ritholtz The Big Picture - @ritholtz
3. Roger Wohlner - The Chicago Financial Planner - @rwohlner
4. Jason Hull - Hull Financial Planning - @hull_j
5. Michael Kitces - Nerd’s Eye View - @MichaelKitces
6. Russ Thornton - Wealthcare for Women - @RussThornton
7. Charles Sizemore - Sizemore Insights - @CharlesSizemore
8. George Papadopoulos - George Papadopoulos on WSJ - @feeonlyplanner
9. Cullen Roche - Pragmatic Capitalism - @cullenroche
10. Jeff Rose - Good Financial Cents - @jjeffrose
11. Jim Blankenship - Getting Your Financial Ducks In A Row - @BlankenshipFP
12. David Merkel - The Aleph Blog - @AlephBlog
13. David Fabian - Investor Insights Blog - @fabiancapital
14. Ted Jenkin - Your Smart Money Moves - @oXYGenFinancial
15. Meb Faber - Meb Faber Research - @MebFaber
16. Alan Moore - Serenity Financial Consulting Blog - @R_Alan_Moore
17. Kimberly L. Curtis - Wealth Legacy Institute Blog - @KimCurtisLegacy
18. Ric Edelman - Edelman Financial Services Education Center - @ricedelman
19. Tom Brakke - The Research Puzzle - @researchpuzzler
20. Carolyn McClanahan - Carolyn Sue McClanahan on Forbes - @CarolynMcC
21. Tim Maurer - Tim Maurer Blog - @TimMaurer
22. Neal Frankle - Wealth Pilgrim - @NealFrankle
23. Wade Slome - Investing Caffeine - @WadeSlome
24. Sheri Cupo - SageBroadview Blog - @sage_cupo
25. Jude Boudreaux - Upperline Financial Blog - @HJudeBoudreaux

To view the complete list of the Top 100 Social Influencers in the United States, visit the BrightScope Blog.

Please check out our Book Store for books on financial planning, retirement, and related topics as well as any Amazon shopping needs you may have (or just click on the link below).  The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.

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Would You Meet With Me For $100?

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Sorry to get your hopes up but I have no intention of paying you to meet with me.  I was looking for a topic to write about and thank goodness for the financial services industry.  The mail brought an invitation for a complimentary consultation with a local financial advisor.  As a thank you to prospective clients for their time the advisor is offering a $100 gift card to one of two local restaurants (both of which I like by the way).  My wife’s reaction when I told her about was on the order of “… she’s really going to pay someone to meet with her?” 

100 Dollar Bills

Regular readers of The Chicago Financial Planner might recall prior posts about financial dinner seminars.  I’m not a big fan.  This approach, however, intrigues me and dumbfounds me.

The economics for the registered rep 

If you stop and think about this it’s pure genius as a business development ploy.  This advisor is clearly trying to sell financial products such as annuities, life insurance, and other products which would generate sales commissions for her.

Certainly the cost of the gift card pales in comparison to the potential commissions so even a mediocre closing rate would seem to make this a very cost effective sales promotion for her.

In fact this strikes me as a far more cost effective approach than a dinner seminar in that the registered rep gets to sit down one on one with a prospect vs. having to feed a meal to group and the other costs associated with a seminar.

Is this really a good way to select a financial advisor? 

One of the restaurants is really a favorite of ours and a $100 might even be enough to cover the cost of bringing one of our offspring with us.

If you go to one of these sessions be prepared to be sold financial products and also be prepared to say “… I need to think about this…”  At the very least do your online homework about the advisor offering this type of meeting incentive.  You can check out financial advisors at FINRA’s Broker Check, BrightScope, and the CFP Board (if they are a CFP).

Check out NAPFA’s guide to finding a financial advisor via the link on our Resources page (under the heading Financial Advice).

Questions to ask a financial advisor 

On a prior post on this blog, I wrote Choosing A Financial Advisor? – Ask These 6 Questions.  I suggested asking these six questions of your current or  a prospective financial advisor:

  • How do you get paid?
  • Are you the next Madoff?
  • Are we the exception or the norm for you?
  • What can you do for me?
  • What are your conflicts of interest?
  • Do you act in a fiduciary capacity towards your clients? 

So would you meet with a financial advisor for $100? 

I’m really interested to learn whether a $100 would be an incentive for you to sit down with a financial advisor.  Please leave a comment or contact me directly with your thoughts.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.

The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra. Click on the Amazon banner below to go directly to the main site or check out the financial planning related selections in our Book Store.

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Is Fear the Ultimate Financial Sales Tool?

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If you are like me you may have noticed a preponderance of TV and radio ads where fear is used to pitch various financial products.  If seems that these are overwhelmingly from providers of products such as annuities, insurance or other commissioned financial and investment products.   Recently I heard commercial for a variation of the insurance product called Be Your Own Banker.  Their pitch was the inevitability of a 50% loss in the stock market.  Really, come on.

Fear Is the Mindkiller

My personal pet peeve is that far too often these fear mongers seem to target seniors afraid of losing their nest eggs.

Should fear be a financial motivator? 

Ameriprise has been running a commercial asking folks if they would outlive their money in retirement.  A valid question and one in part based upon fear.

In fact many folks in their 50s or 60s looking for financial planning help as they approach retirement are asking this question.  Whether it’s fear-based or born out of a desire to be prepared it is a good lead-in to the financial planning process for folks in this age range.

On the other hand scaring people, especially seniors, into purchasing a financial product that may or may not be right for them strikes me as sleazy.

In a prior post on this blog, 5 Steps to a Lousy Retirement, I listed making financial decisions based on emotions as one of the steps to take on the road to a lousy retirement.  This especially true when you are being sold annuities or insurance products because so many of them come with onerous surrender charges meaning that it will cost you dearly to move your money elsewhere over the first 5-10 years of ownership.

Planning should precede the sale of financial products 

The logic, other than the desire to earn a sales commission, of pitching a financial product instead of a financial plan to a client escapes me.  In my world a financial planning strategy generally comes first, the implementation of that strategy including the use of appropriate financial products comes afterwards.

Inflation vs. investment loss 

Many of these fear-based product pitches cropped up in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-09 and the corresponding drop in the stock market.

In my opinion, however, retirees should fear the impact of inflation on their purchasing power vs. losing money in the stock market.  Even a relatively benign 3% inflation rate will cut your purchasing power in half over a 24 year period.

Yes the stock market was hammered in 2008 and if you use the SD&P 500 as a benchmark the market gained very little during the decade 2000-2009.  However a diversified portfolio did reasonably well even during this “lost decade.”

Ask questions and do your homework  

Many successful financial sales types are very personable individuals.  In some cases the sales person might be your neighbor, a member of your church, or a fellow member of the local Rotary club.  This shouldn’t disqualify them as an advisor, however you should also be prepared to scrutinize their credentials and the products they may be trying to sell you with the same tough standards that you would hopefully apply to a stranger in the same situation.

As an example, with the Be Your Own Banker (or any of its variations) sales pitch that I mentioned at the outset, you need to dig very deep before writing a check for this type of insurance policy.  I went to the site and found much of the presentation confusing and found little or no information about the associated policy costs and expenses.

Whether an insurance policy, an annuity, or commissioned investment products you need to ask many, many questions of the agent/registered rep.

  • At the very least understand ALL associated fees, expenses, and restrictions on moving your money.
  • How does this individual get paid?
  • With an insurance related product how solid is the company behind the policy or annuity contract?  

Fear must be a very effective tool in selling financial products, otherwise we would not see so many fear-based product pitches.  Don’t fall for this type of sales pitch.  The only financial products that you should consider are those that are right for your situation, not those that you are scared into buying.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss  all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services. 

The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra. Click on the Amazon banner below to go directly to the main site or check out the selections in our Book Store.

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How Does Your Financial Advisor Define Success?

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I am grateful to Jean Chatzky for her selection of this blog as her top pick among investing blogs in a recent piece for AARP Finance Blogs You Should Read.  In her write-up she generously calls me “An entertaining writer prone to football references…”  With that said I could think of no better way to start a piece about your financial advisor’s definition of success than with a mention of the University of Louisville’s rehiring of Bobby Petrino as their head football coach.  To this college football fan, Louisville’s definition of success is clear and unambiguous.  Is your financial advisor’s definition of success just as clear?

Photograph of Coach Bobby Petrino at the 2010 ...Just win baby

The short story is that the University of Louisville rehired Bobby Petrino as their football coach to replace Charlie Strong who had left for Texas.  Petrino was highly successful at Louisville from 2003-2006 before leaving for greener pastures.  Petrino’s alleged lack of character and morals typify everything that critics point to as being wrong with big-time college sports, however I’m pretty confident that none of that was a factor in the decision to hire him.  He is a talented coach and a proven winner and Louisville needs both qualities as they move to the ACC next season to compete with the likes of Florida State, Clemson, Miami, and Virginia Tech.

As the late Al Davis, founder and owner of the Oakland Raiders, said, “Just win baby.”

For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis you know that I am a fan of openness and transparency in the financial services industry so I have no issue with Louisville’s motives for this move, though I did razz my friend, NAPFA study group mate, and UL grad Greg Curry immediately (Greg is an outstanding Louisville-based fee-only advisor).

Just as Petrino was clearly brought in to win, many financial advisors sadly seem to be in this business with the primary motivation of winning, which I am defining here as earning a whole lot of money for themselves.  Why else would sales training be such a big part of the orientation programs at many firms?  Why else would there be sales contests with nice prizes such as trips to luxurious destinations for selling certain financial products?  Don’t get me wrong I’m not against earning a good living, just not at the expense of the people whose interests are supposed to come first and foremost.

For more on Petrino and Louisville check out this piece on the CNN/Sports Illustrated site by Andy Staples and this one by Michael Rosenberg. 

Is your advisor a wolf? 

In keeping with our tradition for fine family entertainment on Christmas day, this year’s family movie outing was The Wolf of Wall Street.  Watching the film made me wonder what I’ve been missing by being a fee-only advisor all these years (just kidding).

Clearly I am not insinuating that if your financial advisor earns all or a substantial portion of their income from commissions and product sales that they also participate in dwarf tossing, consumption of mass quantities of drugs, lewd sex acts, or other forms of debauchery.  I do wonder if their measure of success is the same as that of the characters portrayed in the film, namely money.  Specifically money that inures to them from selling financial products to you.

While many advisors who sell financial products are competent professionals motivated by their client’s best interests, you always have to wonder if a particular investment, annuity, or insurance product is being recommended because it is the best product for you or rather because it is the most lucrative for the advisor.

As long as some financial services firms run sales contests for advisors and incent sales production this conflict will always be there.

My definition of success 

My definition of success is simple.  I am only successful as a financial advisor if my clients achieve success. 

I would venture to say that my closest circle of financial advisor colleagues, my NAPFA study group, would wholeheartedly agree with this definition.  My guess is that the bulk of my fellow fee-only NAPFA colleagues would as well.

If you are looking for a financial advisor to start off the New Year right check out this guide from NAPFA. 

Make sure that you clearly articulate your goals and your definition of financial success to your current financial advisor or to any advisor that you are considering working with.  Clear and open communication is a vital part of a successful client-financial advisor relationship.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services. 

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Lessons the Financial Services Industry Could Learn from Visiting Lambeau Field

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My son and I attended the Green Bay Packers game against division rival the Detroit Lions this past Sunday at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field.  I’m glad his first NFL game was at Lambeau and that I was able to experience this with him.  If you are a football fan and have never been, a trip to Lambeau on game day is a must for your bucket list.  Here are some lessons that the financial services industry could learn from a trip to Lambeau Field.

The folks are friendly 

As you enter Green Bay you will be struck by the fact that the whole city is pretty much all about the game.  Many houses near the stadium turn their front lawns into parking lots, as did at least one gas station and local motel.  Some will let you tailgate right on their lawn and even use the restroom in their home.  We parked on the lawn of an elderly couple for $20.  The husband who was in a wheel chair directed us as to where to park even before taking our money.  In fact I had to find him to make sure that we paid him.  He didn’t seem the least bit worried about me stiffing him.

I can’t tell you how often a prospective client has told me that the reason they were leaving their financial advisor was that the advisor talked down to them.  I’ve never understood this and the only reasons that I can come up with here is either true hubris or that the advisor really doesn’t want the client to understand where they are putting their money.  In the latter case this could be because the investments are sub-par or there is some sort of fraud ocurring.

There are many good choices 

Wisconsin (I’m an ex-patriot Cheesehead) is all about good food and drink.  Like to tailgate, these folks are pros.  Want to buy your food, no problem.  Before you even get into the stadium there is a permanent bar in the parking lot, plus other choices like a McDonald’s food truck.  Once inside, the atrium is much like a shopping mall including a food court with a great selection of reasonably priced “game food.”

Sadly all too often employees have a menu of lousy 401(k) investment choices.  Clients of commissioned registered reps also are frequently offered financial advice that may be suitable for them but not totally focused on their best interests.  This may include being sold products such as high cost annuities.

The game day experience is fantastic

I’ve been a Packer fan since 1966 when they won the first Super Bowl.  A couple of weeks ago I was so fanatical during the debacle against the Bengals that my wife and dog left our family room.  I care who wins.

Being there with my son on Sunday transcended who won or lost.  The fact that we were able to get down to the bottom row of the stands and watch pre-game warm-ups was as much fun as the game.  Mike is a Communications major at Northern Illinois University where he also works for the Athletics department.  He was very interested in watching the media setting up for the game  as well as seeing the likes of Clay Matthews up close.

Sadly the financial services industry doesn’t always offer the investing public a great game-day experience when they are seeking financial advice.  A recent study by TIAA-CREF noted:

  • Forty-eight percent of Americans say it is hard to know which sources of financial advice can be trusted.
  • Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they don’t like talking to anyone about their finances.
  • Forty-six percent of Americans say that more than ever, they need a trusted place to go for financial advice.
  • Two-fifths of Americans think good financial advice costs more than they can afford.
  • One-third of Americans say they lack the time to get proper financial advice.
  • More than half (58 percent) of Americans say they would prefer to get financial advice from a single point of contact or location.

The financial services industry could learn a lot about service, the quality of the financial products and advice offered, and the need to serve clients for a reasonable fee by visiting Lambeau Field on game day.  It’s an experience like no other.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a free 30-minute consultation to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.  

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Choosing A Financial Advisor? – Ask These 6 Questions

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Deciding to hire a financial advisor can be a tough decision for many investors. Once you’ve made this decision, how do you go about finding the right advisor for you?  Here are six questions to ask when choosing a financial advisor: 

Madoff, Looking the Other Way

How do you get paid?

Fee-only advisors receive no compensation from the sale of investment or insurance products. When selecting a financial advisor, ask yourself whether you feel that a financial advisor who receives a significant portion of their compensation from the sale of financial products can really be counted on to recommend solutions that are in your best interest?

Are you the next Madoff?

One of the tactics used by Bernard Madoff to perpetrate his fraud was to send clients his own statements instead of statements generated by a third-party custodian like Charles Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and others.  A third-party custodian provides periodic (monthly or at least quarterly) statements independent of any reports provided by the advisor.  You should never give your investment dollars directly to a financial advisor, they should always be sent directly to the custodian.

This is critical if the advisor will be providing on-going investment advice.   In fact it is a deal-killer if this is not the arrangement.  If the advisor says something like “… we send out our own statements to our clients…”  end the conversation and find another advisor.

Are we the exception or the norm for you?

Ask your financial advisor about their client base. If you are a corporate employee looking for help planning for the exercise of your stock options, you should ask the adviser about their knowledge and experience in dealing with clients like you.  A financial advisor who deals primarily with teachers or public sector employees might not be the right choice for you. Likewise if the advisor’s typical client has a minimum of $1 million to invest and your portfolio is more modest, this advisor might not be a good fit for you.

What can you do for me?

If the advisor’s primary service is focused in an area like constructing bond portfolios for their clients and you are looking for a financial planner to construct a comprehensive financial plan for you, this advisor may not be a good match.  Make sure to find someone who offers the types of services and advice that you are seeking.

What are your conflicts of interest?

Financial advisors who are registered representatives will often be incentivized to sell insurance or annuity products promoted by their broker dealer or employer.  Ask how they select the financial and investment products they recommend to clients. Ask them directly about ALL forms of compensation they will receive from working with you, and if they will disclose this information on an ongoing basis. Ask them if there are any restrictions regarding the products they can recommend.

Do you act in a fiduciary capacity towards your clients?

In laymen’s terms, you are asking if the adviser is obligated to put your interests first. The brokerage industry uses the suitability standard, but in my opinion this falls far short of a true Fiduciary Standard. This argument continues in the financial services industry as the regulators work through this issue.

The questions listed above are just a few of the many questions you should ask when choosing a new financial advisor or to ask of an advisor with whom you currently have a relationship.

As an investor, it is ultimately up to you to select the right financial advisor. Do your homework and due diligence. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers (NAPFA), the largest professional organization of fee-only advisors, has a guide to selecting an advisor called “Pursuit of a Financial Adviser Field Guide,” which is an excellent resource for those seeking the help of a professional financial advisor.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a free 30-minute consultation to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.    

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Your Stockbroker is Not Your Friend

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This is a guest post from Bob Richards, the publisher of The Retirement Income Blog.

Your broker may seem like he wants to help you make money and odds are he does.  Unfortunately, he works in a system that decreases the possibility he can help you.

Your Broker Does Not Give You the Best Advice

English: File depicts image from the official ...

Your broker has positioned himself as your advisor, someone acting in your interest.  However, this is not always so.  If he works for a large firm, that firm issues his paycheck and he is beholden to that firm.  Say he works for ABC Financial.  Notice that he often recommends the mutual funds or annuities created by ABC Financial.  This allows his firm to not only get a commission when you buy the fund but also fees for managing the fund.  So even though there may be better-performing funds he can recommend, he is under no obligation to do so.  His legal obligation is only to sell you what is suitable, not what is best.  And he often recommends “packaged products” such as mutual funds, annuities, or wrap accounts rather than individual stocks and bonds.  It is much easier for his firm to bury high fees in a packaged product.

You Broker May Not be Competent 

In order to become a broker (now called financial advisors at many firms), one must take a test.  The exam is like most exams—you memorize a bunch of information and then regurgitate it.  The test is multiple-choice.  Any intelligent 12-year-old can pass the exam. In fact, many brokers attend a 40-hour cram course the week prior to the exam as their only preparation. Furthermore, the exam tests knowledge about rules and regulations and almost nothing about what it takes to help you make money.  From my experience as a former branch manager for a major brokerage firm, about 80% of the brokers know very little about the market or the investments they sell. The other 20% may have actually taken investment management, economics and finance classes in school but this is not a prerequisite for becoming a broker.   Alternatively, the 20% who are knowledgeable may have educated themselves.

Your broker sells you offerings he may not understand.  Investments come with a prospectus.  I have never met a broker who read the prospectus of the investments sold. The way he often learns about the investments is by attending a luncheon given by a wholesaler (a sales person to sales people) who provides the sales talking points for the broker to incorporate in his pitch.  Because the broker cannot distinguish between a “good” and “bad” investment, he generally sells what his firm recommends. 

A Better Investment Professional

Very few investors realize that there are two types of professionals in the investment business. I have described so far a registered representative, the technical term for a stockbroker who sells investments and earns commission. There is another type of investment professional called a registered investment advisor. This person has obtained a license that permits him to give investment advice for a fee. He won’t sell you something and earn a commission (though some brokers and registered reps are both sales people and registered investment advisors via their firms). He will give you advice in return for payment. He is also legally responsible to you as a fiduciary. The definition of fiduciary duty:

“A fiduciary duty is the highest standard of care at either equity or law. A fiduciary (abbreviation fid) is expected to be extremely loyal to the person to whom he owes the duty (the “principal”): he must not put his personal interests before the duty, and must not profit from his position as a fiduciary, unless the principal consents.”

The way that most registered investment advisors work is that they manage your investment portfolio for a percentage of the assets for which they are providing advice (e.g. 1% of the portfolio value would be $1,000 annually on a $100,000 portfolio). Because of the way they are compensated, they have no motivation to sell you this stock, that stock, that mutual fund or this bond. Their motivation is to retain you as a client and to make your account grow. Only in this way can they make more money from you by helping you grow a larger investment nest egg from which they can collect their 1%. Yet others simply work hourly much like an accountant or an attorney or via a fixed retainer. Again, they have no incentive to sell you the product-du-jour as does a broker.

Advice for Selecting an Investment Professional

So here’s the advice I’d like to give every investor.

  • Do not buy packaged products because unless you read the 80 page prospectus, you are likely being ripped off in terms of high fees.
  • Buy individual stocks and bonds and no load mutual funds which you must buy on your own because commission brokers don’t sell them.
  • Either deal with a registered investment advisor who will charge you fees and not commissions or you’ll need to learn enough about investing to do it yourself.

This is a guest post from Bob Richards, the publisher of The Retirement Income Blog.

Please feel free to contact me with your investing and financial planning questions.  Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.  

Please check out our Resources page for links to some additional tools and services that might be beneficial to you.  

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Greed is Good – What if Gordon Gekko was a Financial Advisor?

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Gordon Gekko

A recent LinkedIn group discussion about the use of C Share mutual funds caused me to comment that the advisor in question must have been Gordon Gekko.  This made me wonder what the fictional Mr. Gekko would be like if he came to life as a financial advisor.

For those of you who may not know, Gordon Gekko is the Investment Banker from the film Wall Street played by Michael Douglas who uttered the immortal phase, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” at the shareholder’s meeting of a company that he was attempting to take over.

Compensation Structure 

I’m pretty certain that Gekko would not embrace the fee-only compensation structure with its transparency and lack of revenue from the sale of financial products.  Rather I suspect he would gravitate to either the commission or fee-based structures.  Certainly his slicked-back hair and big cuff-links would fit the stereo type of the financial advisor as a producer model.   

Load mutual funds 

I’m guessing that Gekko would love the high cost B Share mutual funds and would be doing everything he could to keep clients in this share class as long as he could.  Overall he would likely favor share classes with some sort of sales load in order to increase his income.  No low cost index fund or ETF recommendations from Mr. Gekko.

High cost Variable Annuities 

Gekko would likely suggest that you buy one of the many high cost variable annuities that make him a ton of money and may have questionable results for you his client.  There is nothing wrong with variable annuities; in fact they can be a viable solution for some clients.  What is objectionable is the way these products are often sold and the high cost versions of these products that are generally pushed by fee-based and commissioned reps.  You will never hear them touting low cost, no surrender charge versions of this product that are offered by Vanguard and others.

Life insurance is a goldmine 

Life insurance is a key component in the financial plans of many folks and rightly so.  Life insurance can provide an easy way for a family to build an estate quickly and can help protect their lifestyle should the primary breadwinner die before accumulating a sufficient level of wealth.  Inexpensive term life insurance generally provides the best approach to life insurance.

I doubt that Mr. Gekko would see things this way.  In order for him to realize a big payday from selling you a policy,  some sort of cash value policy such as whole life, universal life, variable life, or some variation would likely fit the bill. He might try to sell you on the value of the policy as an investment or as a retirement savings vehicle.  While there are instances where a cash value policy makes sense, be very skeptical if your agent or financial advisor really pushes one of these products.  Make them show you a realistic illustration.  I’ve actually seen policy illustrations using a 12% annual rate of return.   12%, really?  Oh yes, greed is good I forgot.

Equity Index Annuities 

Whenever I’ve written a post in any way suggesting Equity Index Annuities are not the best alternative for the Baby Boomers and retirees, I receive a fair amount of negative comments that range from disagreement to questioning my knowledge of finance.  This leads me to believe that my comments are right on the money.

Mr. Gekko would especially love the fear-mongering approach that is often used to sell EIAs after a market downturn.  Given the popularity of these products among the financial sales crowd I have to assume the payouts are generous, making this product a natural fit for Mr. Gekko.

Gekko’s approach to the 401(k) world 

If Gekko offered 401(k) plans as part of his practice he’d likely love the high cost group annuity plans offered by many insurance companies.  The worst event from his point of view is the recent 401(k) disclosures mandated by the government.   I wonder if Gekko would even be able to spell the word Fiduciary.

Greed is good as long as greed it is pursued in an ethical fashion and on behalf of an advisor’s clients.  I’m also not saying that every advisor who is paid all or in part via commissions from the sale of financial products is a bad advisor.  Clearly, however, the fee-only model starts with fewer potential conflicts of interest for the advisor.

Gordon Gekko is one of the best movie characters of all-time in my opinion.  Let’s be glad that he is just a fictional character and not a practicing financial advisor.

Please feel free to contact me with your investing and financial planning questions.  Full disclosure I am a fee-only advisor and a member of NAPFA the largest professional organization of fee-only advisors in the U.S.

Photo credit:  Flickr

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Choosing the Right Financial Advisor – Key Considerations

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Happy young couple in discussion with a financ...

With the holidays behind us and taxes on the horizon, many folks are looking to find a qualified financial advisor who is right for their situation.  Maybe getting your finances in order was a New Year’s Resolution.  Perhaps you’ve realized that retirement is getting closer.  Whether you will be looking to work with a financial advisor for the first time or feel that your current advisor isn’t meeting your needs, here are some issues for you to consider in your process of choosing the right financial advisor for your situation.

Understand yourself first 

The first question that I ask a perspective client is:  What prompted you to seek the services of someone like me?  While you may not be totally sure of all of the areas in which you need help, thinking about what you want from a relationship with a financial advisor up-front will help you to find the right advisor for your unique situation.

Some common answers to my initial question over the years:

  • Retirement is looming and I want to make sure that I have everything in order.
  • We inherited some money and want to know how to best invest it.
  • Our investments are all over the place and we have no plan.
  • We want an independent review of our situation and a financial plan to help us move forward. 

How would you and the advisor interact? 

What is the advisor’s communication style?  How often would you meet?  Will the advisor be proactive about bringing relevant ideas and suggestions to your attention?

There is no right answer here, but you should be sure to ask about this so that should you enter into a relationship with this advisor your expectations are realistic.

Does the advisor work with clients like you? 

An advisor who focuses on clients who are retired might not be the right advisor for you if you are in your 30s with small children for example.  Does the advisor have a minimum level of net worth or investible assets?  Where does your situation fall in comparison to these minimums?

If, for example, you are a corporate employee seeking advice on how to best manage the stock options granted to you by your employer does the advisor have experience helping clients deal with their stock options?

Advisor or product seller? 

Does the prospect advisor focus on selling financial products?  Do they offer financial planning services?  Are they compensated on a fee-only basis or do they depend upon commissions from the sale of financial products for all or part of their compensation?

It is important that you fully understand how the advisor is compensated so that you understand if there are potential conflicts of interest that might be driving their advice.

What are this advisor’s qualifications? 

There are an increasing number of designations in the financial advice world.  The two that hold the most weight as far as financial planning goes are the CFP® designation and PFS designation.  The latter is the personal finance designation awarded to CPAs who qualify.

Make sure to ask about the designations held by a prospective advisor and also about their education and experience.  While none of these ensure that the advisor is right for you the answers to these questions will give you a sense of their commitment to gaining the knowledge needed to address your financial planning and advice needs.

Do some checking 

Check on the prospective advisor’s record.   FINRA’s Broker Check database of federally and state registered investment advisers allows you to search by name, and lets you check up on firms as well. Several private services, such as BrightScope, have services to check an adviser’s regulatory record. If the adviser is a Certified Financial Planner you can also look up their information at the CFP Board’s website. None of this is a guarantee, but it is a great starting point.

The right financial advisor can help you build the wealth you need to reach your various financial goals.  Take the time and put in the effort to select the right advisor for your unique needs.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a free 30-minute consultation to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.   

Check out our Resources page for links to a variety of tools and services that might be beneficial to you.

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