Why are financial firms popping up everywhere?
I was driving recently and listening to a local radio station. In the space of half an hour there were at least four radio ads from financial firms. I got home and opened my mailbox to extract a couple of invitations to dinner seminars from other local financial firms, of which I get about 7 or 8 each and every month. I really believe that any retiree in this area could knock off several hundred dollars of food expense from their budget simply by attending these seminars regularly!
What's up with all these financial firms? Are so many really necessary? Are some better than others? Do they all do the same thing?
We are the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. A constitutional framework of government, and an entrepeneurial spirit has produced the robust economy that benefits us all. With increased wealth, there is a greater need for intelligent decisions regarding that wealth, and I believe that the level of financial literacy is at an all time low. Hence, the rapid explosion of financial "advisors." It's simply supply and demand in action.
It's Just Math
I once had a conversation with a retired engineer who explained to me that he had no need for financial advice. "It's just math," he explained, presumably a subject he was very good at. In some respects he was 100% correct, but I doubt that topics such as the different investment vehicles available to him, the tax code ( I know there is some math in their somewhere....), and estate planning through the advanced use of trusts were really in his area of expertise. I'm good at math too, but would never presume that I know how to construct a suspension bridge.
So how does a person know how to select a financial services firm? Here are a couple of things to consider:
Are they counseling or selling?
A person who has just sat for an insurance license and passed it can now legally call himself a financial advisor. Does that mean you should accept his counsel on financial matters? Well, maybe. If you're just looking to buy life insurance to protect your family, then that person is probably alright. But if you're looking for education on investment solutions or minimizing taxation on your required minimum distributions, then not so much. If that person proposes every solution to every problem as one of his company's products, then you should be suspect. A good financial firm will offer a high level of expertise, with degrees and certifications to back it up, as well as different ways to achieve your goals.
Are they operating at a fiduciary level?
The vast majority of "advisors" are only held to a "suitability" standard, which means if you can afford it, it's suitable. A fiduciary standard is much higher, and this person must always do what's in the client's best interests, and be able to defend that in a court of law, if necessary. Look for this level of accountability in your advisor.
Do they know everything?
If they say they do, throw them out. No financial person fits that bill. The real question is, do they have a team of folks who have expertise in legal and tax areas (hint: see www.navfs.com for someone who does)? Are they willing to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out and get back to you."
Are they competent?
Professional designations and a willingness to stay educated are very important. A designation such as CFP, ChFC, or CLU underscore the fact that this advisor has worked hard to be competent in what he or she does.
With so much competition out there, you shouldn't settle for less than excellence. Do your homework, and make a decision. Perhaps the biggest reason people never reach their financial goals is because they procrastinate. Is a good financial planner worth the money? Absolutely! The guidance, tax savings, and implementation help he or she provides will more than pay for any services you receive, especially over the long haul. If you're not receiving such value from your advisor, then you should look for another one.
Until next time,
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