Financial Advisors usually intend to project the very image of economic stability. They meet with clients in custom-tailored suits, toss around financial jargon, and lay out their vision for a sound plan to grow their client’s money.
Unfortunately, sometimes unscrupulous, greedy, or unethical participants in the money management game can give their colleagues a bad name. Over the last two decades, accountants, investors, and even major banks have fallen under the scrutiny of the media and the public eye for questionable business and money management practices.
Regardless of whether or not your financial advisor has your best interests at heart, there are some things to consider when assessing the value of their involvement in your pecuniary concerns, especially if you have important financial goals, such as saving for retirement.
Here are 21 pieces of information that your financial advisor may not suggest for your consideration, and the reasons range from lack of awareness to a potential conflict of interest—with their own interests.
When it comes to managing your money and your financial worth, it’s important to deal with someone who has your best interests at heart. Therefore, when looking over the list of potential secrets, you will hopefully learn to read between the lines, examine the motivation of your financial advisor, and address any questions or concerns these secrets might raise.
Secret #1: Get a Fiduciary, Not an Advisor. While there are certainly genuine, well-intentioned financial advisors out there, you may be working with a salesperson masquerading as a financial advisor, analyst, or wealth manager. The number one goal of such a person is not to improve your financial well being, but to sell and earn commission from sales of financial products (like investments, mutual funds, stocks, etc.)
If your success fits into that formula, then that’s great for you—and them. However, if it doesn’t, be forewarned that they may have no scruples about letting the ship of your finances get dashed on the rocks while they move on to captain a more interesting and lucrative portfolio.
The solution to this is to ensure that you are dealing with someone who has pledged themselves as a fiduciary—meaning that they are legally bound to advise you with your best interests at heart.
Secret #2: Our Portfolio, Not Yours. If the bank needs to sell more business credit cards, then that’s what associates will be pushing. If they need to sell more mortgages, then bankers will be having more of these conversations. A salesperson skilled in the art of dialogue can certainly make you think you need one of these products. You may very well may benefit from it, but there’s a good chance they received a memo or notice from higher ups about which financial products need to sell.
Secret #3: Catch a CFP Instead of Catching Me if You Can. Unfortunately, anyone under the sun can refer to themselves as a financial advisor, planner, consultant, or analyst, but those titles don’t guarantee any credentials or qualifications.
A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (CFP) comes with a trademark and a guarantee that the financial planner you’re dealing with has passed tests verifying that they have met certain educational, experiential, and ethical requirements.
Look through the online directory made available to consumers through the CFP board so you can find a certified professional in your area. If you are introduced to one through a banking institution, make sure those three letters and that trademark are attached to his or her name. Otherwise, while there are certainly knowledgeable and ethical advisors out there, you run the risk of dealing with a character like the one Leonardo Dicaprio played in Catch Me if You Can.
Secret #4: It’s Not Good to be in Debt. Financial Advisors have a goal to maximize your winnings in the investment arena, while minimizing overall risk. If you’re on track with these investment goals, and are still able to pay down your mortgage, car loans, and credit card debt, a financial advisor may not encourage you to pay off debt. It’s not that they don’t care—it’s just that debt management is not something in their area of expertise.
However, paying off debt will improve your credit score and make it easier for you to obtain credit, a loan, a new mortgage, or refinance existing loans. These are options you’ll want to keep open for yourself if the ever-shifting winds of life mandate a change in course for you.
Moreover, if you don’t have to factor in credit card and mortgage payments every month, then you may be able to retire earlier, which is what you want, right? A financial advisor eager to collect more fees may even suggest that you retain debt, while continuing to hand over more cash for their management and care.
Secret #5: There are Other Types of Investments. Financial advisors are there to help you navigate through the complex world of tradable securities, something that may be difficult to do on your own.
However, because their area of expertise is focused within the realm of banking and financial services, they are unlikely (or even qualified) to explore other investment options with you, such as the diverse varieties of real estate ventures—like rentals, flips, options contracts, just to name a few.
They may preach the value of diversification of your portfolio to you, without acknowledging the need to diversify beyond stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
What about business partnerships, tax liens, REITs, and foreign investments? Learn about other types of investments and consider how they might help you diversify your wealth beyond securities.
Secret #6: It’s Important to Keep Investing in You. Financial Advisors are not career counselors, nor do they provide life guidance. If you have the opportunity to obtain a degree or some advanced training that can further your career at the cost of several thousand dollars, then that plan may seem to fly in the face of the investment strategy you and your financial advisor have planned.
On the other hand, that personal investment in your business or professional growth could help increase your income by 10 percent, for example. Suddenly it seems like a great long-term proposition.
Sure, your financial advisor may lose out on some fees this year, but wouldn’t they rather benefit from the additional money you’ll be making from this professional development?
Moreover, you have to realize that between you and your advisor, the only person who is going to look out for you and your interests is you. The financial advisor is there to manage your portfolio, not your life.
Secret #7: Warren Buffet…He Exists and He Can be Emulated. Your financial advisor may attempt to scare you with stories about ad hoc investors who lost it all, or at the very least, came out pennies on the dollar after investing a lot of sweat equity riding the highs and lows of the stock market.
It’s certainly true that many people have attempted to “play” the stock market, dabbling their feet in the seemingly shallow waters of day trading, only to discover that they were a lot deeper in than they could afford. However, there are also successful investors like Warren Buffet, whose buying and holding strategy of purchasing stock in large, stable, and long-standing companies like Coca Cola, John Deere, IBM, etc.
These efforts have resulted in a consistently performing, well-paying portfolio that has leveraged the power of dividends to bankroll his way towards a current net worth of over $83 million. Which brings us to our next secret…
Secret #8: Dividends…They are Small but Mighty. Dividends are small pieces of profit that companies parcel out to stockholders, since they technically do hold partial ownership of the company. While your financial advisor may encourage you to adopt money growth strategies that involve taking on a little bit of risk, or at least ride the waves of the market with their guidance in order to beef up your retirement account, they may disparage the conservative strategy of dividend-based growth, believing that they can do better.
Dividends are actually an incredible, real-cash asset that can add up over time. For example, if you have a $100,000 portfolio, and quarterly dividends pay around 3% annually, that’s $3,000 of actual additional cash you can use to purchase more stock. That may not seem like much, but if you have a million-dollar stock portfolio, you’re looking at $30,000 in passive income, just from dividends alone.
Furthermore, returning to the first example of the $100,000 portfolio, running that $3,000 through a compound interest calculator (without contributing a single additional dollar to the fund, or factoring in rising stock prices) will yield a net profit of almost $35,000 after a decade—not a bad chunk of change!
Secret #9: Keep Learning. Your financial advisor may encourage you to accept the feeling of relief that’s engendered by turning a responsibility as large as managing your portfolio over to someone else. However, don’t let their positive embrace of ignorance motivate you to stay in the dark.
Learn about equities, markets, theories, and investment strategies. Talk out decisions with your advisor, ask questions, and learn why they are doing what they’re doing. The more you know, they better equipped you will be to participate in the growth of your wealth and the development of your retirement account.
Secret #10: It’s Important to Understand Your Tax Situation. If your Financial Advisor’s approach to taxes involves the suggestion to throw everything into tax-deferred accounts and leave it at that, you might want to ask why. There are plenty of legal ways to examine your tax returns and determine ways to minimize financial loss through taxes.
Consider hiring a financial advisor who has familiarity with tax codes and related legal concerns. Your financial advisor might brush this suggestion off due to a lack of knowledge and/or expertise, but tax strategies are an important part of every wise investor’s arsenal.
You may find that you could be saving hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars over the course of decades by adopting a proper tax strategy, all while bringing that sweet day of retirement a little closer.
Secret #11: Not Everyone Knows Everything. The financial industry is not a place to admit weakness, since it might scare away potential clients. But if your financial advisor acts confident that they know what the market is going to do, as if they have a crystal ball and can see into the economic future, it might be best to take their statement with a grain of salt.
What they’re not reminding you is that there have been around a dozen recessions since the 1950s, and one cataclysmic collapse within the past century. No one can predict the future, especially when it comes to the stock market, even if they are wearing a three-piece Armani suit.
Secret #12: You May Not Need Life Insurance Anymore. Life Insurance is a great proposition for people with a family to support, and who are still working their way toward a comfortably-sized nest egg to leave behind for their loved ones and dependents.
However, once you reach the point where everything is set up for retirement, why should you continue to pay for something you no longer need? Your financial advisor may be reluctant to help you consider this information, especially if they benefit annually from your life insurance renewal.
For example, your financial advisor may also be the agent who manages your policy. While this seems patently dishonest, they may also be under the impression that you still want to have life insurance, so bring this concern up with them and discuss your options.
Secret #13: Maybe You Can Travel and Live Abroad. Retiring abroad can be an unexpected way to trim living expenses, but your financial advisor may not be so interested in exploring that option, especially if it takes your finances away from him or her.
Most financial advisors are geared towards assisting clients toward retirement in the United States. On the other hand, you may find it behooves you to do a comparative cost analysis of where you currently reside against other exciting places you may have always wanted to live in. You could be surprised to find that the cost of living outside the United States is significantly lower in many areas, and that simultaneously allow nice, affordable opportunities for relaxation and travel.
Secret #14: Understand Fees. Is your financial advisor working with you in a fee-based relationship, a commission-based relationship, or a combination of the two? Dig deeper when he or she waves off the question of how they get paid, and seek to understand the exact cost of your money management.
You may think your portfolio is performing at a certain level, but understanding the cost of fees will provide you with a more honest assessment of its performance. Moreover, understanding the structure of their reimbursement may shed some light into the way they operate, and their level of engagement with you.
Secret #15: You Still Need to Learn How to Budget. Your financial advisor may be making suggestions about how to manage your income outside of contributions to your retirement portfolio, but they may not be.
If you overextend yourself through spending more than you should, then you may have to cut back on investments and contributions to your retirement account. They may be unaware, or even not care, about your spending habits, as long as you keep a stream of income coming their way.
Unfortunately, if that situation changes, it may be too late to circumnavigate the hit your annual contributions to retirement will take. You may even need to dip into your retirement portfolio, which could have been prevented if you had only been guided into budgeting and saving properly. As long as you kept the bread buttered, they couldn’t care less what you did with the rest of your time and money.
Secret #16: Do Your Research…You wouldn’t rely exclusively on word-of-mouth when it comes to hiring a contractor or carpenter for your home—otherwise you might end up with a leaky roof or a crooked floor. You’d check references by turning to a website that can verify their credentials and/or provide reviews of their work. So why would you treat the process of hiring a financial advisor any differently, when a mistake in hiring the wrong person could cost you thousands, if not millions of dollars?
A word-of-mouth recommendation from friends and family can certainly be good, but follow it up with a little due diligence of your own. Utilize the resource of the SEC and check out the Investment Advisor Public Disclosure website to see if you can find your potential financial advisor’s proverbial mug-shot (hopefully you can’t).
Secret #17: …Because They’ve Done Theirs. They may not ever tell you, but Financial Advisors screen and research potential clients. While they are in the business of managing other people’s money, this is not a purely altruistic venture on their part, but rather part of a genuine attempt to find engaging and lucrative employment. They want to find clients who are worth their time and investment. It may not be important, but it still is good to consider that they may know more about you than you think.
Secret #18: A Good Advisor Cares About You and Your Goals. A financial advisor is someone you might have a working relationship with for decades, possibly even “until death do us part.” It’s important that you feel they are reachable (within reason—no one likes to be contacted at 3:00 AM), and that you’re comfortable engaging them in honest discussion, raising questions and concerns.
If you’re not, or you feel off about something regarding your financial advisor, then you may want to consider looking for a new person to manage your wealth.
Secret #19: I don’t Have to be Local. In today’s day and age, it’s easy to keep in touch with skype, email, and phone calls (with the proliferation of cell phones, almost everyone is always somewhere near their phone).
There may be a whole group of local financial talent trying to get you through their office doors, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s necessary to have a financial advisor close by, especially if you don’t click with any of them.
There are plenty of ways to discuss your portfolio even across long distances, and if you really so desire, you can always make a trip out to meet your advisor once in awhile.
Secret #20: Talk Often. It’s unprofessional and unreasonable to demand to talk with your financial advisor every day (or even every week), but there are several instances when you should meet with them to strategize: changing jobs, getting married or divorced, or receiving a large sum of cash such as an inheritance (or winning the lottery).
Preparing to pass on your wealth and caring for aging parents are other more protracted reasons for meeting with a financial advisor, as well as making a plan to save for a large purchase such as children’s college tuition. You’ll want, need, (and indeed, deserve) to have a financial advisor who is accessible to meet with you, discuss your goals, and plan out how to meet them.
Secret #21: Be Happy with What you Have. This last piece of advice regarding things your financial advisor may not tell you would not be such a reasonable thing to expect them to share anyway, since they are not in the business of life-coaching or character refinement. However, it is human nature to always want more, especially when it comes to wealth. That said, it may be in your best interest to learn how to be happy with what you have.
After all, the whole point behind money management is to create a comfortable nest egg for you to live out a happy life. Moreover, a good financial advisor is actively involved with the stewardship of your money so that you can live out your goals, hopes, and dreams.
So, there you have it! A blackjack list of secrets your financial advisor may not be sharing with you, for whatever reasons. Regardless of the reason, there are things you should consider and even bring up with them, especially if you cherish an honest relationship with the person managing your money and helping you arrive at your financial goals.