Just like in any industry, there are great financial advisors and there are some really horrible ones. Some complaints against financial advisors are hard to believe. However, learning about some of them will help you spot financial advisors that pop up in your search who are in the business to help themselves at any cost — yours.
While it's true that financial advisors need to make a living, they should only do so if they can provide demonstrable value to their clients. Unfortunately, some financial advisors don't provide it. Worse yet, some negatively impact their clients.
Here are some of these top complaints about financial advisors. (For related reading, see: Advisors: These Mistakes Could Cost You Clients.)
1. Too Little Explanation About Products
Financial advisors should be able to explain the investment products they're selling you in detail. You should understand the fee structure, the historical performance, the rationale as to why the investment product is right for you, and anything else you want to know.
Unfortunately, many financial advisors don't schedule enough time with clients to ensure they understand the products they're purchasing. If you feel rushed, pressured, or confused when you're sitting down with your financial advisor, either set up an additional appointment with them or find an advisor who is willing to take the time to educate you.
2. He's Selling Just to Earn a Commission
Financial advisors make their money in a variety of ways. One common way is through an ongoing management fee that is usually a percentage of the assets they manage in your account. Another common way is for them to earn a commission on selling a particular investment product. Both ways are appropriate, but the latter has the potential to be abused.
For example, if your financial advisor earns a high commission on a particular investment product, he or she may be tempted to sell it to you even though he/she understands that there are better products for your situation. This is an obvious conflict of interest. Your financial advisor should have your best interest in mind and act on that best interest. If the investment product that is in your best interest happens to carry a nice commission, so be it. However, if an investment product isn't in your best interest but has a high commission, the advisor should act with fiduciary responsibility and sell you the product that is best for your situation — even if it means a lower commission. (For more, see: Common Mistakes Advisors Make With Clients.)
3. She Isn't Responding in a Timely Manner
Financial advisors should understand that their clients' money is important to the clients. Their financial security is most likely one of their primary concerns in life. Now, if a financial advisor waits a week to call their clients back, how do you think that's going to make them feel? Insecure.
If your financial advisor takes too long to get back to you, look elsewhere. Advisors should have the infrastructure in place to get back to you in a timely manner. If not, it probably means they are unorganized and not providing you with the service you deserve.
4. Not Putting Clients' Needs First
This one is similar to the second point, but it's nonetheless worth mentioning because there are many more ways that the financial advisor may put his or her own needs over the needs of clients.
For example, sometimes financial advisors get excited about a new product or service they are offering. In a way, they decide that if the product or service sounds good for their own needs, it will probably work for their clients, too. And many times, they're wrong.
A good financial advisor carefully listens to clients' needs and asks important questions to understand their situation. After a great deal of listening, a good financial advisor will put together a financial plan tailored to their clients. Don't let your advisor assume your situation isn't unique. Your situation is unique, and your advisor should respect that.
5. He or She Likes Churn
Churning refers to buying and selling investments in an excessive manner that results in commission. Financial advisors need a valid reason to buy and sell investments. Some of those valid reasons might include changes to their client's risk tolerance level, belief that other investments are better suited for the client due to a change in circumstances, or that a client requests changes to be made on his or her behalf for his or her own reasons.
6. Promising Unreasonable Returns
Listen: a guaranteed 12% annual return on your investment is absolutely unreasonable. Even if it isn't guaranteed, it's unreasonable. While a study on the average rate of return of the stock market may produce impressive results, don't forget that there are many other factors that go into actual returns. Don't get caught up in believing your investments will outperform because you have a special financial advisor "who knows what he's doing." Chances are, if he's promising stuff like this, he doesn't.
The Bottom Line
Knowing what to look for in a financial advisor gives investors a leg up in their search, but knowing what not to look for can be just as useful. If a prospective advisor — or perhaps one you've already hired — seems to be leaning too much into the techniques noted above, run — or at least find someone else to manage your financial advice needs. (For related reading, see: Social Media 'Don'ts' for Financial Advisors.)