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What do Financial Advisors Talk About? Should You Care?

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I am sitting in the Orlando airport waiting for my flight back home to Chicago. We just finished our fifth annual NAPFA Mix Group winter meeting. This is our third time in Florida and the first time here with decent weather. A Mix Group is a fancy name for a study group.

All eight of us are either solo or run very small financial advisory practices. All of us are members of NAPFA the largest professional organization of fee-only financial advisors in the country.

As both financial advisors and small business owners we have all found it vital to have a sounding board of our peers who are dealing with many of the same issues. The winter meeting is mostly devoted to our businesses. We reviewed our financials from the prior year with the group and also discussed our 2012 goals. In the course of these reviews we provide suggestions about each advisor’s business. Besides the direct input about my practice issues, much of the advice we gave to other members was applicable to me as well. I took many notes on points raised in these discussions.

For example we all told one member that she needed to make a tough personnel decision and that she should not be shy about implementing client fee increases that truly reflect the value she provides to her clients (a suggestion from a prior meeting). As was a surprise to nobody, she mentioned that there has been no negative feedback from the clients whose fees have already been increased.

Additionally we reviewed several sessions from the TD Ameritrade conference that a couple of the members had attended just prior to our meeting in Orlando. We also discussed several specific client and business issues raised by members relative to situations they were dealing with in their practices. At our Phoenix meeting last year we had a local estate planning and asset protection attorney do a presentation on issues we should be considering for our clients in these areas.

We do another face-to-face meeting, generally in Chicago in the summer or early fall where we tend to discuss a broader range of issues including investment ideas and strategies, practice tools such as financial planning and client management software, and often discuss client specific issues a member might be having. We schedule a group conference call bi-monthly and all during the year we call each other to help resolve a wide range of questions or issues ranging from client situations to investments, estate planning, or what have you. In short we serve as each other’s board of directors and collaborators.

As a client or potential client of a financial advisor why should any of this matter to you? I can’t speak for other advisors, but I often share with clients the fact that I have this support system of seven other experienced professionals with whom I can discuss any number of issues that might arise on their behalf. In addition to these folks, the entire membership of NAPFA advisors across the country is generally willing and ready to share their expertise to help a fellow member. I have been on both sides of that help frequently since joining in 2003.

NAPFA has over 20 of these Mix Groups and the feedback from advisors who participate has been excellent. Besides the NAPFA Mix Groups there are many advisors who participate in other study groups. Additionally most of us attend conferences during the year that focus on education on various topics such as investing, retirement planning, estate planning, and other areas. From my experience the best exchanges occur at these conferences via conversations between advisors in the halls and over dinner. Much learning takes place informally.

Ask your advisor if they participate in a study group or attend conferences. Ask about what they take away from these gatherings.

Differentiate between educational sessions and the trips that many financial sales types win as perks for peddling the most financial products. If your advisor goes on many of these outings ask yourself who is really paying for the trip.

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