On the web, there are lots of comments from do-it-yourself investors who poo-poo financial advisors as mere salespeople who sell high commission products. Although there may be some truth to the statement, it’s important to realize that many people need financial help and not everyone is born to be savvy financial people.
This article is targeted to the many people who have financial advisors and would like to work better and more closely with them. I’ve ran into many people in this situation.
Do you have the right advisor?
After being in the financial industry for 20 years, there’s one thing I know about financial advisors – Not all advisors are created equal. If you are not sure if you have the right one, this may be an opportune time to shop around and interview other advisors to get a comparative base. How would you know if you have a good financial advisor if that is the only person you have known? If you have been working with the same advisor for a while, ask yourself if your values are still aligned.
Call up your advisor to review your relationship.
That’s right . . . review your relationship and not your portfolio. The foundation of any relationship whether it’s marriage, friends, with your boss, or your advisor is good communication. Often relationships break down when there is a breakdown in communication.
When you review your relationship there are a few things that you want to know:
- How much do you get paid to manage my account? Like it or not, financial advisors are in business to make money. That’s why it’s important to know how much they make from servicing your account? If they don’t make a lot of money, then you might understand why you may not be getting a lot of attention. However, on the other hand, if the advisor is getting paid a decent amount from trailer fees or service fees, then maybe you have the right to argue for better service. But how would you know where you stand from a pure economic perspective if you did not ask the question. If you ask, they must answer. It’s called fee disclosure and they must disclose their compensation to you.
- How often do you review my portfolio and how do you do it? The next important thing to know is their plan to mange your money. One of the reasons people hire financial advisors is to get help managing the portfolio. If this is the case, then make sure you know how your advisor does this. Not only do you want to know how often this will be done but how it will be done. Ask about the process and the specific things that are reviewed. How do you determine good performance versus bad performance? How do you define and measure risk? What is your philosophy and strategies around asset allocation? How do you do investment research? What do you research? holdings? fees? tax?
- How are you going to improve communication? One of the things I hear frequently is that investors never hear from their financial advisors. Quite frankly, that’s not good! A key aspect to any relationship is good communication. If you feel you never hear from your advisor, stop waiting! Pick up the phone and call your advisor and ask for a meeting to review your portfolio. When you meet, tell the advisor you are not feeling the love and you want to develop a communication strategy. In the future, is the advisor going to contact you or are you responsible for contacting them?
- What kind of communication is most effective? Different people like to communicate differently. Which do you prefer? Email, phone, face to face? It’s important to have a discussion with your advisor about how often communication will happen but also what needs to be communicated and the most effective medium for communication.
- How many clients do you have and where to I fit in your practice? One of the issues that will affect your advisors ability to communicate and service your account is the size of their client base. If an advisor has 1000 clients, it would be very difficult for that advisor to call you and touch base with you very often. On the other hand, if your advisor only has 10 clients, you may also want to know if they will be in business over the long term or you might expect better service as a result because you are a pretty important client to that advisor.
- Can we review my retirement or financial plan instead of just the portfolio? My fellow blogger Ram at Canadian Capitalist feels too many advisors are not doing financial plans because they focus just on the investment portfolio because it’s how most advisors get paid. I could not agree more. I think one of the most important functions of a financial advisor is to develop good plans around retirement or from a holistic financial perspective. If you don’t think you have a financial plan, tell your advisor it’s time to do one. You have that right.
Even if you have an advisor it’s important to remember that nobody cares about your money more than you care about your own money. When you hire an advisor you hire them to help you and not to just do everything for you blindly without any care or accountability. It’s important you work on the relationship just as you need to work on the portfolio.