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Why You Need an Advisor Who Doesn't Care

Hi. I'm Simon. I'm a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) When it comes to my clients, I don't care. But don't worry, there are plenty of other people out there who do care.

Insurance Agents

Take, for example, that insurance agent who is trying to sell you a permanent life insurance policy with a $30,000 a year premium. He cares a lot whether you buy it since if you do, he can expect to personally pocket a commission of close to $20,000 right away and then around $1,400 a year for as long as you live (as long as you don't cancel the policy). (For more, see: Paying Your Investment Advisor - Fees Or Commissions?)

Excuse the pun, but you can bet your life he really, really cares. If you are 30-year old and you live to your actuarial life expectancy (and so does the insurance agent), he stands to personally make not far off $100,000 from you if you say yes to his sales pitch for that permanent policy with a $30,000 a year premium.

Chances are he's probably not making as much noise about a 20-year level term policy for $1 million, which - if you are a 30-year-old healthy female, who lives in New York - might yield him $500 in year one, if he's lucky. 

Or perhaps this same insurance agent is telling you about the "wonders" of a fixed index annuity. He really cares if you buy this as well, since for every $250,000 you agree to put into this product, he can expect a check for around $17,000 to hit his bank account pretty much right away. He also may be one step closer to that all-expenses paid trip to a ridiculous resort in the Caribbean for him and the missus that the insurance companies tend to hand out to their top producing sales people. Er, my guess is that he cares. A lot.

Commission-Based Advisors

The commission-based financial advisors who work for banks, brokers, credit unions etc. really care about you too. They are paid transactionally through having a Series 7 license and the more money they can talk you into putting into those underperforming, actively-managed mutual funds with annual expense ratios of 1.8%, 2.0% and higher, the louder that "cha-ching!" sound gets in their head.

They are most likely noticeably silent about recommending the option of you buying that exchange-traded fund that costs 0.03% per year, but which, based on analysis of a mountain of data, will likely outperform their suggestions over the long term. (For related reading, see: Should You Choose a Fee-Only Financial Advisor?)

Your commission-based financial advisor also cares very much if you buy that non-traded REIT he may be pitching you. Firms can take anything from 10% to even as high as 20% in commissions for selling you these things (as well as up to another 4% or 5% each year and maybe even take another cut when you sell) and your friendly financial advisor that smooth-talks you into the purchase is going to get his piece of that.

Real Estate and Mortgage Brokers

Real estate brokers and mortgage bankers really care that you buy that house. Can you expect any objectivity from them? They can be great at what they do and often genuinely work on your behalf once they become convinced that you "can" buy the property. But should they be the people to be involved in answering the question of whether you actually "should" buy it from a financial planning perspective? 

So what you need is someone who, from a compensation standpoint, doesn't care at all whether or not you buy that house, take out that permanent insurance policy or sock your money into that expensive annuity, mutual fund or non-traded REIT. Someone who can give it you straight and lay out the reasoning, without having any vested interest in the outcome of the transaction.

What this person cares about is what your best interests are. Not the interests of the insurance company, the bank, the credit union, mutual fund provider or the real estate agency. And certainly not their own best interests when it comes to making commissions off you - because there are no commissions.

That person works for a Registered Investment Advisor, can prove (by providing you with Form ADV) that he is a fiduciary to you at all times (not just when talking about retirement accounts), preferably has the CFP designation and a flat fee-only pricing structure with an available hourly option and has a clean regulatory record. 

If your financial professional can't check those boxes, then they care too much and you should avoid them.

Hi. I'm Simon. And I don't care. (For more from this author, see: Choose ETFs Over Mutual Funds for Your Portfolio.)