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.
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.
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.
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