With the U.S. government pumping the breaks on new fiduciary rules for financial advisers, investors may be wondering how they can tell if a money manager has their best interests in mind.
The data bears out that sentiment.
According to the CFA Institute, just 35% of investors polled say they always believe their financial adviser puts their interest first. Additionally, 84% of investors say that "full disclosure" of fees and charges is a big factor in forging a client/adviser relationship built on trust. Yet only 48% of investors trust that advisers are making fee disclosures a priority.
Those numbers signal a shift in client attitudes toward investment advisers, which had been generally positive in recent years (it's worth noting that multiple studies show that more investors would rather stick with their current adviser than find a new one.)
But when trust is an issue, it's "look out below" for both client and advisers. For the former, it might be time to move on if the following investor/client issues rear their ugly heads:
They don't offer to sign an Investment Policy Statement. One of the biggest warning signs an adviser isn't for you is when he or she refuses to explain your money strategy. "A reputable financial adviser will develop an Investment Policy Statement (IPS)," says Robert W. Johnson, principal at the FedPolicy Investment Research Group in Philadelphia, Pa. An IPS is a written document that clearly sets out a client's return objectives and risk tolerance over that client's relevant time horizon, along with applicable constraints such as liquidity needs and tax circumstances, Johnson notes. "In essence, an IPS lays down the ground rules of the investment process - it's the document that guides the investment plan," he says. "If a financial adviser is unable to explain the "why" of the investment strategy, that is certainly a red flag and a reason to shop for a different financial adviser."
Your adviser is also a registered representative. 80% of investment advisers are also registered representatives, meaning they may have a hidden agenda, says Chris Cooper, an expert witness in lawsuits against financial services professionals at Chris Cooper & Company, in San Diego, Ca. "Registered rep's can have an employer telling them what to sell and giving them financial incentives to sell investment vehicles that pay the firm and the rep the most," Cooper explains. "Avoid all dually registered professionals, especially if they work for large insurance companies."
They push annuities on you. Avoid all variable and indexed annuities and the people who sell them, Cooper also advises. "When you are paid 6% to 25% commissions, you believe that everyone should have one of these products," he says. "But these products rarely perform because of the high internal fees and protections for the insurance company manufacturing them and distributing them."
The adviser doesn't ask for your tax return. "Without understanding your tax situation, it's impossible to give advice that is in your best interest," notes Devin Wolf, a financial planner with Financial Plan, Inc. a wealth management firm based in Bellingham, Wash.
No employer retirement planning link. If your financial plan can be integrated with your retirement plan at work, that's the path you want an adviser to take, says Wolf. "Bad advisers will often recommend you invest all your money with them (so they can get paid) even if maximizing your opportunities through work are in your best interest," he notes.
If you find that your adviser isn't performing on the above tasks, and you want to make a change, doing so may be easier than you think.
"Changing financial advisers is actually a fairly easy process," says Joshua Sutin, an employment benefits attorney based in San Antonio, Texas. "Just initiate the transfer through your new financial adviser."
For assets held at your current financial adviser, a brokerage account transfer (ACAT) would be completed on your behalf, Sutin says.
"Your current financial adviser will likely charge a fee to transfer the account (usually between $50-$150 dollars and described in the account opening documents)," he notes. "For assets held away from your current financial adviser, such as non-proprietary mutual funds, contact the fund directly and have them switch the "broker of record."
Again, "there is usually no fee associated with this change," he says.