In his song “Real Friends” musician Kanye West raps, “Real friends. It’s not many of us. We smile at each other. But how many honest? Trust issues.” West wonders whether those around him are there because they really have his best interests at heart, or if they only care about him for his money.
Given recent developments in the financial advisory industry, many Millennials might be wondering the same thing about their financial advisor. The Department of Labor (DOL) will soon be enacting a new rule that requires all financial advisors handling a retirement account to abide by a fiduciary standard, which means always acting in the best interests of the client and not the advisor’s or corporation’s profits. It might be surprising, but that is currently not always the case. If your advisor is not a fiduciary, he or she may not be obligated to act only in your best interest. You can read more about the new rule and our take on the fiduciary obligation here. (For more, see: How the Fiduciary Rule Will Change How Advisors Work.)
Opponents of the rule, unsurprisingly mostly financial advisors at big banks, say that it will decrease access to financial advice for small investors since advisors “cannot figure out how to make money when working with them.” Without the fiduciary obligation, how do advisors currently profit from younger investors? Forbes recently published an article by the Morgan Stanley team where advisor T. Gregory Naples says that with Millennial clients he, “starts them out in managed mutual funds until they reach $50,000. After that, he often switches them to more transparent and lower-cost stock and bond funds managed by institutional money managers.”
Breaking it Down
This is a huge admission. Let’s break down exactly what Naples is saying. Crucially, Naples admits that, until you hit $50,000 assets under management (AUM), he invests your money in expensive, inefficient funds that line his own pockets with commissions. Then, once your AUM gets to a point he can make money off of you through fees rather than commissions, he puts your money into more efficient places it should have been all along.
Later on, he mentions examples illustrating the power of compound interest, but neglects to mention that the unnecessary fees you are incurring from the inefficient funds he has invested your money into will eat away at the returns you get from the compound interest. This illustrates the folly of the argument that the fiduciary rule will drive young investors away. Young investors who are just starting out are, in fact, much better off being driven away from advisors with non-fiduciary practices like Naples. Entrusting your money to a non-fiduciary, traditional financial advisor as a young, new investor is like intentionally hitchhiking on a road known for having murderous truck drivers when there’s a much safer road nearby. (For more, see: Retirement Planning the Millennial Way.)
People naturally gravitate towards big firms with name recognition. But as the Naples quote demonstrates, these large, non-fiduciary firms may not always be the best option, particularly for young investors. What the back-and-forth over the DOL rule reveals is that non-fiduciary advisors often don’t even really want your money. Most seek accounts with higher balances. So why go where your money is not wanted?
The practices of traditional financial advisors could have you, like Kanye, questioning whether those you trust are only there for your money. If you’re interested in a financial advisor who will work only in your best interest, make sure you are paying attention to these 6 questions you should be asking any potential financial advisor. (For more, see: Which Investor Personality Best Describes You?)
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