What does your advisor do for you? Too few clients know. Some 65 million Americans have financial advisors, but they don’t understand how to get the most out of him or her. If you want to get rich, that’s the only way to fly.
Intimidated by the advisor’s superior financial knowledge and afraid of sounding stupid, they focus on his personality or looks. Such superficial takes don’t give you anything of value.
A recent TV mini-series about Bernard Madoff, the biggest swindler of all time, shows an extreme example of this. Played by Richard Dreyfuss, Madoff came across as a very affable advisor who knew how to manipulate his clients. Some of them even had financial savvy, but they never looked beneath the surface of Madoff’s charm.
Knowing your advisor, though, is about far more than avoiding a Ponzi scheme like Madoff’s. A huge majority of advisors are honest. Still, as Ronald Reagan said, trust but verify. One way to find out is to consult regulators like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to see if an advisor has infractions.
What’s more important is that you should know your advisor and what he or she does, so you can get the most out of them. Or if you are kept in the dark, find someone better for you. And above all, you must insist that whatever the advisor tells you is understandable. The rationale for the advice shouldn’t be an inscrutable puzzle.
The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards aired a funny yet trenchant TV ad that showed how easily clients can be buffaloed. In it, people listened to a confident guy in a suit who threw around financial phrases like confetti. All the people said they trusted the man to run their portfolios. Then the advisor confessed he really was a disc jockey who knew nothing about finance.
A lot of clients shed their advisors after the 2008 financial crisis, when the market lost almost half its value. But that was unwise. Everyone lost money then. The ideal is to see how an advisor fares over several years. One bad year, especially one like 2008, tells you nothing.
If you want to meet your financial goals and achieve a secure retirement, you must look at the long term.It requires smart investments in mutual funds, stocks and real estate, among other things. To get where you want involves forming a partnership with your advisor; you shouldn’t abdicate your role in the process to him or her.