Archive for the ‘Conflict of Interest’ Category
Last weekend, I went to New Jersey to meet a potential client who is an executive at a pharmaceutical company.
He told me that, as part of the executive benefit package, the company refers executives to Morgan Stanley where they get “free” financial advice. I smirked and said: “Well, we will find out how free it is. One thing I know, though, Wall Street firms are not known for charity.”
It turns out that Morgan Stanley advised him to open several, separately managed accounts (SMA), each with a management fee of 1.5%. The reason for the multiple accounts?
Recently, a client of mine fell, broke his hip and ended up lying on the floor for 20 hours before he was rescued. I went to visit him in the hospital a couple of times. The good news is: he is out of immediate life-threatening danger. The bad news is: he may be wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.
When John first came to me to seek my help with his personal finance, I looked at his overall financial big picture and was pleased overall. He worked at federal and state jobs and enjoyed good pensions. On top of that, he had a decent investment account.
But there was a gaping hole in his retirement security: he was turning 70 then, was divorced, and his children lived far away. That meant if he were to get sick, nobody would be there to take care of him; he would need to hire caregivers. Right then, I insisted that he buy long-term care insurance.
After working as a financial advisor for six years and after reading tons of research, I have developed a good sense about how the average investor loses money. As the New Year approaches, I think it’s good to share my insight so that readers can determine if they are making these mistakes.
Conflict of interest
I cannot emphasize this enough: Wall Street firms don’t work for you. If you have a Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley advisor, expect to give away 2.5% of your money every year – about half of it will be in explicit fees, the other half will be in hidden fees. If you invest through insurance products, expect to give up 3.5 percent of your money.
Posted November 19, 2012on:
When a young physician joins a practice, he will have to sign an employment agreement.
After a few years as an associate physician, he will make partner, or become a shareholder.
At which time, he will sign a buy-sell agreement.
These two agreements to a great extent determine the wealth this physician will accumulate.
If they are not done right, this physician will likely not see any of the wealth he creates.
I am not being an alarmist. Let me tell you about a client of mine….
Here is a selection of the best wealth management articles around the web for September:
5 reasons your portfolio is too complicated, by Kyle Bumpus
Why analysts are scratching their heads over QE3, by Robert Wasilewski
Is rebalancing market timing?, by Mike Piper
Choosing a mutual fund – Avoid these 6 mistakes, by Roger Wohlner
Fidelity’s new retirement saving guidelines, by Barbara Friedberg
Can I consistently outperform the market? by Ken Faulkenberry
Dividend reinvestment plans (RIPS) and their benefits, by Dave Scott
Questions to ask when picking a financial advisor, by Carl Richards
Get my white paper: The Informed Investor: 5 Key Concepts for Financial Success.
When talking to prospective clients, I am upfront about what I can and can not do. I can NOT beat the market.
Recently, that straightforwardness caused me to lose a prospective client to a major Wall Street firm. Apparently, the financial advisor from that firm was able to convince him that with their exclusive location, expensive brochure, and nice Armani suits, they could beat the market.
This led me to do a mental exercise.
Why do you charge me 1% every year regardless how well you do for me? I would rather not pay you anything for the first 5% return and split anything above and beyond that.
This is a question a prospective client of mine asked me. Let me explain why this fee arrangement is not in the client’s best interest.
Historically, the mean return of the market is 10%, and the standard deviation of return is 15%. This means the market is equally likely to go up 25% in one year and go down 5% in another.
Despite what they want you to believe, financial advisors have very little control over the market.
Two months ago, I got a call from client of mine, who asked my opinion about an opportunity to invest in pre-IPO Facebook shares. He explained that he and his business partner were offered the opportunity to invest in a private fund that will hold Facebook shares.
I know nothing about these funds, but I told my client to stay away. As a general principle, I always steer my clients away from private funds unless they run the funds themselves. The reason is very simple: these are unregulated vehicles where there is no government oversight and there is no transparency whatever. You don’t know what monkey business they do with your money. Most business people intuitively grasp that if the private deal is about starting a restaurant; but once the deal is about buying Facebook shares, many of them throw caution to the wind.
If you had a busy March, you are forgiven for not paying attention to Greg Smith’s open letter explaining why he is leaving Goldman Sachs. In his “resignation” letter, the Goldman Sachs executive sheds a bright light on the culture of this premiere Wall Street investment bank. Let me quote at length:
What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.
Many people think that fee-based financial advisors are those who charge their clients fees for service; therefore, they have more transparency and less conflict of interest. That’s exactly what the financial industry wants you to think.
Fee-based financial advisors are the financial industry’s response to the rise of independent fee-only financial advisors. Fee-only financial advisors are paid solely through fees for service paid directly by clients; they are not licensed to receive third-party commissions. Consumers rightfully associate this compensation model with integrity and unbiased advice.
This week, a business woman came to my office for a second opinion financial review.
She explained why she came to see me: she bought a permanent life insurance policy because her financial advisor told her it is a great investment. She has been paying $3000 a month for that, and so far she has put in roughly $80k. Recently, she needed some cash and called to redeem the policy. Much to her surprise, the surrender value is only $1,300. She became suspicious of everything in her portfolio and wanted me to examine it for her.
It took me only five minutes to figure out that her financial advisor is screwing her, no punt intended.
I was called a “wing nut” by a commenter for pointing out all the malpractices of insurance companies. Indeed, I could go nuts seeing how they mislead their customers into financial peril. They know full well that their customers are not going to read beyond the first few pages of their hundred-page contract, so they put all the goodies on the first page and keep the disclaimers on the back pages.
The following is an actual annuity contract a client of mine purchased a few years ago, much to his regret now.
On the first page of the contract, all the warm and fuzzy keywords are used: “GUARANTEE”, “fixed”, “annualized interest rate of 5.75%”. Pay attention to the following line though: This rate is subject to change each month.
Posted April 30, 2011on:
My friend is a savvy businessman. However, like most Americans, he has a misconception: he thinks financial advisors are legally bound to put clients’ interests first. This can not be further from the truth. Everybody and his grandma can be a “financial advisor.” Unlike being a “physician”, there are neither legal requirements no educational qualifications. Whether a certain financial advisor is bounded legally to act in his client’s best interests all depends on his true profession. Here is an ad hoc summary:
|Certified Public Accountant (CPA)||Yes|
|Registered Investment Advisor (RIA)||Yes|
|Certified Financial Planner (CFP)||Maybe|
Posted April 28, 2011on:
Hedge funds are often peddled as a unique asset class that has outstanding returns that are uncorrelated with the market. In reality, hedge funds are as much an asset class as Las Vegas is.
Hedge funds are a general description of private investment companies that are organized as limited partnerships with fund managers as the general partners and investors as limited partners. The keyword here is private. By law they are not supposed to be sold to the public; therefore, they are exempted from government oversight. But sold to the public they are! It is not the first time unscrupulous “financial advisors” have pushed the limit of the law, while the SEC looks the other way.
I recently met an entrepreneur friend of mine. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he had sold his business and was now looking forward to retirement. He has about $1mm in his 401k plan. As any shameless financial advisor would do, I asked him if he had someone helping him manage his money.
“As a matter of fact, yes!” he answered. “A friend of mine is also a financial advisor, and he helped me create a balanced portfolio.”
He related that “50% of the money will be in safe investment—a (deferred) annuity that has a guaranteed yield of 5%; the other 50% will be in alternative investments for higher performance.”
To say that I was flabbergasted is a serious understatement. With a friend like that, who needs enemies?
You may not believe it: the term “financial advisor” is a free title. Anybody can use it; there is no legal requirement, nor educational qualification. In practice, though, generally there are three types of people who use this title: insurance agents, stockbrokers, and registered investment advisors (RIAs). Whether they are required to disclose fees all depends on what type they are.