We the investors of the world have provided the funds that corporate America has needed to finance their growth over the past two hundred years in exchange for the right to share in that growth and profits previously only afforded owners. The investor / management relationship has worked out so well that a whole industry evolved to fulfill the growing number of investors needs for information and advise to assist investors in making sound investment decisions. The Financial Services Industry, which originally was only available to the very wealthy, has grown over the decades to be the provider of investment information to roughly 40% of American families.
Most financial advisors are affiliated with large investment firms that funnel the firm's collective knowledge, information and expertise to their cadre of advisor to pass on to individual and institutional investors. In theory this gave those investors associated with large firms potential for returns that could not be achieved on their own or with an association with smaller or independent advisor.
Thus the Financial Advisor that advised you and me was actually taking the firms "expert knowledge", adapting it to our sanitation and advising us where we should be investing our savings to achieve our financial goals. We were told that since 1900 if you stayed invested in a well diversified portfolio you would never have less then when you started in any ten year period.
So what happened over the past decade? Most of us lost a sizable part of our savings in the 2001 Tech Bubble only to loose more of our savings in the Sub Prime Bubble. The $ 100,000 that we had in January 2001 shrank to $ 60,000 by October 2003 then grew to $ 80,000 in July 2007 and is now worth $ 40,000 today. We're eight years closer to retirement and wondering how we're going to survive if we ever do get to retire.
Do we just plan on working for the rest of our life? Do we work until we can't then go in Medicaid and welfare become a drain on the United States economy? Do we take what we've got left and develop a strategy and lifestyle that will allow us to live out a comfortable life without being a burden on or children and our country?
I personally think the last option is the best option, but it is going to take an adjustment in our attitudes and lifestyle. One of the adjustments has to be in how we look at the investment markets and out financial advisors. Whether you should change Financial Advisors or not, now is the time to asses the performance of your current advisor and decide if it is time to make a change. I am speaking of a Financial Advisor not an Investment Advisor, there are less then 5% of the world's population that should be seeking the services of an Investment Advisor. The investment markets are not a place for most of us to turn to make money; they are a place for us to preserve the capital that we have left and grow that capital at reasonable rates of return.
The first step in choosing your new Financial Advisor is for you to decide what you want from your advisor after your attitude adjustment. Here are some of my suggestions:
o Help me preserve the capital I have left and grow it at a conservative rate of return.
o Help me to live within my means and set an investment strategy based on my needs and goals.
o Help me protect my family form the loss of my earning ability or my death.
o Help me and my family achieve our financial goals prior to retirement.
o Help me accumulate enough to enjoy a comfortable retirement.
o Help me assess my need for long term care insurance.
o Help me establish and estate plan.
Once you know what you want from your advisor you'll need to find a qualified provider. As in all professions the first qualification you need to look for is education. Your potential advisors will have a Series 66 or a Series 7 securities license as well as an insurance license and a variable products license. A Series 66 allows them to sell mutual funds and a Series 7 allows then to sell stocks, bonds, options as well as mutual funds. A Series 7 is a more in-depth course of study then the Series 66, so I'd eliminate anyone who doesn't have a Series 7 securities license.
Seventy percent of the people representing themselves as Financial Advisors stop their education beyond their licenses and their required annual continuing education. It's the other 30% of the advisors that you are looking for. These are the people with initials behind their names representing professional designations. At the top of this designation pecking order is the CFP (Chartered Financial Advisor) designation. A CFP is comparable to a master's degree in financial planning; it takes three years of study and at least three years of practical experience. To find a CFP in your community go to: cfp.net/search. Other designations like the ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant) and CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter) are focused on specific segments of the financial advisory field. These designations are comparable to Board Certifications in the medical fields, and I personally would not put my finances in the hands of anyone who doesn't take their profession seriously enough to seek all the education that is available. This search can leave you with a list of three to three hundred depending on the size of your community. I suggest that you check BestofUS.com a website that lists the best of ten professions across the United States. This should help you bring your list down to a manageable number of qualified advisors.
Next go to the NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) website and look up your short list of qualified advisors. (finra.org/Investors/ToolsCalculators/BrokerCheck/index.htm) Here you'll be able to find out your potential advisors work history, license history and if they have had any legal or disciplinary action brought against them. We've gone through some pretty tough financial times over the past ten years and a lot of good advisors have been sued, so use this information as a means of asking your potential advisors some tough questions. "Can you tell me what these issues are about?" Now Google your short list and see what you find; you'll be surprised what you'll learn.
At this point, you need to sit down with those left on your short list. Here is a list of questions that you should ask.
o What is your approach to financial planning? If they don't address the "Help me" points above their not a Financial Advisor. If they start talking about Managed Accounts, Sector Investing, Momentum, Technical verse Fundamentals, or Option Strategies your talking to and Investment Advisor.
o What was your book of business worth on March 1, 2008 and what is your book of business worth today? Can I see supporting reports? Their going to ask to see your finances, it's fair for you to ask to see theirs and if it's down more then 25% you're in the wrong place.
o How are you paid? There are only three possible answers here; commissions, asset base compensation, or fees. Most will be a combination of the three possibilities; the one that you want to watch out for is commissions. Commissions can create a conflict of interest. Asset based compensation means as your assets grow their compensation grows or as your assets go down so does their compensation. I liked that it results in a common objective. Fees will involve special work like a financial plan or a research project relative to your specific situation, and that's fair.
o How often will we meet to review my situation? This needs to be at least twice a year.
o Tell me about yourself. How long have your been in the business? Do your have any professional designations? Have you had any legal or disciplinary action taken against you? What is your employment and education background? Have you written any books or articles that I can read? You know all the answers, just sit back and judge.
If you'll follow this process you'll find the Best Financial Planner for you. You may end up with the person that you've been using, but you now know they are qualified to provide you with the service that you need from your new Financial Advisor.
Choosing your Best Financial Advisor can be as important as choosing your Best Physician, so do your homework and then take responsibility for your decision. As is managing your health you have to take an active role in the management of your finances; stay involved and understand everything.