Today's inquiry: What's realistic to expect when it comes to disclosure, discretion and duplicity when investing your money with a brokerage family of funds? Do the brokerage's representatives care which funds you invest your money in, as long as it's one of theirs? Do you think fund managers are mandated to protect your money?
Can you reasonably expect your interests to be considered when the fund managers who you think are looking out for your capital are more focused on bringing in additional assets and keeping your money "working" than in preserving it? Or when so-called analyst research can't be trusted because it proves to be nothing more than an empty and duplicitous sales tool?
In other words,
is it realistic to expect that the fox charged with guarding the helpless hens won't devour them?
To help clarify your thinking, I offer the following investor quiz. Choose the best answer for each scenario presented.
Customer Reality Quiz
You go in for a conference with your brokerage's "personal" investor representative. He tells you he's going to take a look at your unique situation and make fund recommendations accordingly. He then asks you a few questions about how much you have to invest, your income, age, your time horizon before retirement and your tolerance for risk.
You make it clear that you don't want to risk more than a 15% loss of capital on whatever funds he thinks are appropriate. He gives you a knowing smile, says tech is now coming back with a vengeance and suggests you diversify by putting 75% into three growth funds, 15% into a high-grade corporate-bond funds and 10% into cash. Upon hearing this, you:
- Sit quietly, nod your head, but think there's no chance that he's going to tell you that all three growth funds are down huge for the year and that you should stay safe in cash and short-term Treasuries until the geopolitical situation is less cloudy.
Immediately ask for a breakdown of the top 10 stocks in each of the growth funds to make sure there is little overlap between the fund holdings.
Feel furious with him for his two-minute analysis and begin debating with him about the correctness of his choices, admonishing him that all growth funds are a cruel hoax perpetuated to separate you from your money.
Call up Jim Cramer's radio show and ask whether you are diversified.
Burst out laughing, excuse yourself and head for the closest bar.
You tell your personal representative that you are interested in opening a new 401(k) retirement plan for a one-person business. You explain to him that your objective is to be able to contribute a greater proportion of your income than you have been permitted under your present profit-sharing plan. You ask what kind of funds he thinks would be right if you plan to retire within 10 years. His response is to:
- Look totally baffled and ask what you mean by a 401(k) for a one-person business.
Tell you that the recently discovered and highly touted
Cynthia Indicator suggests the stock market has reached a bottom and that the Aggressive Growth fund is just what you need, along with a REIT fund and the European Emerging Growth Fund.
Tell you that the Less Than $5 Priced Stock Fund along with a couple exchange-traded funds focusing on chips and biotech would be the ideal way to make up some of those nasty bear-market losses.
Suggest that you invest in a gold fund along with one of the PIMCO bond funds, but forget to mention the heavy penalty for withdrawal within six months.
Explain the details of the safe harbor provision of the 401(k) but neglect to mention that since Sept. 11 and the terrorist threat, there is no longer any such thing in this country as a safe harbor.
Upon hearing that you have an interest in trading individual stocks, your sales rep tells you about their new Web-based trading platform. You are curious about its Level 2 capabilities and ask him to compare it to Real Tick. At that point, he looks at you with a smirk of disdain and says:
- "Level 2? I'm sorry, if you want streaming level 2 quotes, you must do at least 300 trades per year or have more than a million dollars in your account."
"Excuse me? We're not a daytrading firm, and we don't thinkanyone who isn't a daytrader needs level 2. We help people invest for thelong term so that they may make their retirement dreams come true."
"Level 2, schmevel 2 -- with the spread in decimals, you're gonna get the shaft no matter what bells and whistles it's got."
"You're kidding, right? I mean, you wanna sit there like a schmuck all day watching the numbers go by? Lemme tell ya, pal, stick it in an index fund and go play golf."
"Uhh, I'll have to ask the manager about that. Would you like some coffee and a Krispy Kreme donut while you're waiting?"
Keep your pencil sharp for Part 2 next week, as we continue with the reality quiz. I will also try to come up with my psychological rationale for the "correct" answers. Don't forget to go and check out the tabulations to see how other readers' answers compare to yours.
Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Irvine, Calif. He has been in private practice for the last 26 years, investing for the last 20 years, and actively trading online as a position trader and long-term investor since 1996. He is the author of
The Disciplined Online Investor and maintains a site at www.hendlin.net. He is pleased to receive your comments and questions for publication in his public forum columns at
firstname.lastname@example.org, but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail.
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