The Investment Scientist

Archive for the ‘Conflict of Interest’ Category

EIA Salesman

Typical Salesman’s Chart for EIA

Financial author Allan Roth once wrote an article called “Investment Trick – Annuity Style” where he asks a rhetorical question, “If the S&P 500’s total return is 12% in a given year, what do you think your equity index annuity (that is supposed to track the S&P 500) would return”?

  1. 10%
  2. 8%
  3. 5.4%
  4. 3.4%

Allan Roth goes on to explain why the correct answer is 3.4%. Boy, was he wrong! Read the rest of this entry »

images-38Recently I was approached by two prospective clients. The husband is a very successful entrepreneur and they are also very frugal. As the result of that, they have accumulated substantial wealth – north of $5mm.

The only problem? all of that money is in about 28 variable annuities they purchased over the years. In examining these variable annuities, I turned up the following problems:

1. Horrible returns

For each variable annuity, I was able to calculate its annualized return.

Out of the 28 variable annuities, only two have annualized returns above 4%. Seven have annualized returns between 3% and 4%. Six have annualized returns between 2% and 3%. The rest (13 of them) have returns less than 2% including a few that have negative returns.  The average annualized return? 2.12%. Not enough to beat inflation!

2. Horrible surrender charges

There is this one annuity they purchased from Jackson National Life in 2007 for $200k; today it has grown to a “value” of $245k, but if they should cash it out, they would only get $221k since there is a surrender charge of $24k. After seven years, there is still a surrender charge of 12%! This is just horrible! Read the rest of this entry »

My Financial AdvisorWhen I am approached by a prospective client, the question they always ask without fail is “Are you properly licensed?”

This is actually the wrong question. The right question should be, “Which license do you have?”

Generally, there are two types of licenses for people who call themselves a “financial advisor.” People who passed the series 65 test and people who passed the series 7 test. The nature of these two licenses are as far apart as heaven and earth.

Series 7 is a securities license. People who have passed this test can legally be a broker. They are actually prohibited by law to give financial advice, except incidental to the financial products they are selling.

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ImageRecently a business owner asked me to review his investment portfolio. He is currently with an Ameriprise financial advisor and his gut feeling tells him something is amiss.

He is paying the advisor 1.6% in fees. First of all, this fee is quite exorbitant. For the size of his portfolio, he shouldn’t be paying more than 1% in advisor fees.

Adding insult to injury, for the fee that he is charging, this advisor puts his money into a collection of very expensive mutual funds like ODMAX.

It is very easy to check the expenses of a mutual fund. I just googled ODMAX and I found out it has a load of 5.75% and an expense ratio of 1.36%. (For those who don’t know, load is a one time charge to pay commision to the Ameriprise advisor who doubles as a broker. Expense ratio is an ongoing annual charge.)

ODMAX is a mutual fund that invests in emerging market stocks. If you use the low cost alternative, aka a Vanguard fund, you will pay no load and the expense ratio is only 0.33%, a saving of 1.06%.

Don’t ever underestimate these tiny savings. Because in ten years, the savings will be more than 10%, in twenty years, more than 20%. This businessman is in his 50s; he can easily live another 30 years. I asked him: “How would you like to be more than 30% poorer in retirement?” That is exactly what this financial advisor will make him.

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ImageTwo days ago I went to listen to a geopolitical lecture given by Professor Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago.

Professor Mearsheimer is a geopolitical realist. He has an intriguing theory about global political order which states that there is a 75% chance that the US and China will come into conflict.

I care about this subject because, being a Chinese American, I know that my life would not be too pleasant should that come to pass.

Professor Mearsheimer’s theory is based on the assumption that the global order is anarchic, by that he means there is no higher authority above states, and that each state will fight for a better position in the order.

The US, now being number 1, is not going to willingly give up the top spot, and China, if given the opportunity, is not going to settle for second best.

Professor Mearsheimer explains how the US became #1 in the first place:

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images-11A physician client of mine called me the other day and asked my advice as to whether she should evict the tenant currently residing in her condo. This is advice I hate to give. Let me explain.

The tenant is a single mom with two young children, whose estranged husband just stopped paying child support because he is officially unemployed, but the tenant believes he is getting paid under the table.

My heart goes out to this tenant, I would never want her and her children to become homeless. But my head tells me that if my client lets her stay for free, she would most likely wind up staying for free forever and my client’s rental property would become a toxic asset.

So what should I advise my client?

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I read with disgust this news about a “financial advisor” stealing $1.3m from his client who also happened to be his father!

I want all of you to know that not all financial advisors are the same. In fact “financial advisor” is a free term. There is no educational requirement nor legal requisite. Justin Bieber and his grandmother could call themselves financial advisors and begin dispensing advice – and they would not get into trouble for it!

In reality though, there are generally four types of people who like to call themselves “financial advisors”:

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Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC. He is also a regular contributor to Morningstar Advisor and Physicians Practice. To explore a long-term wealth advisory relationship, schedule a discovery meeting (phone call) with him.



You may also get his monthly newsletter, or join his Facebook page for regular wealth management insights. Michael's email is info[at]mzcap.com.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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