With all the publicity in the newspapers, television, internet, and magazines, we are all familiar with the likes of Bernie Madoff and R. Allen Stanford. These two “financial advisors” are accused of bilking their clients out of $60 Billion and $10 Billion respectively.
What in the world is going on? Who can you Trust? How do you protect yourself? How do you find a financial advisor that you can trust?
How should you begin to protect yourself?
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself? As with everything in life, nothing, including these steps, can guarantee that your financial advisor is honest or will continue to be honest. However, if you follow these four steps you will be better protected from the likes of the Madoff’s and Stanford’s of the world when you choose your financial advisor.
Talk to friends, relatives, and coworkers for names of their trusted advisors. Referrals from other people are the best way to get names of financial advisors. Once you have a name than begin with step one.
Your first step is to go to finra.org, the public’s watchdog organization for financial advisors and brokerage companies. FINRA is the acronym for Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. It was created in 2007 with the consolidation of the NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) and the enforcement and arbitration divisions of the New York Stock Exchange.
On the FINRA site, look at the investor’s section and click on the “FINRA Broker Check” tab. This will allow you to check on both the advisor and the brokerage firm the financial advisor is affiliated with. If there have been any problems or complaints with this particular advisor or brokerage firm it will be listed here. You must do this first even if the advisor has been referred to you. Remember Bernie Madoff and R. Allen Stanford? They did their business exclusively through referrals.
Once you are satisfied with what you have read on the FINRA site your second step is in meeting, face to face, your potential new financial advisor. This is your opportunity to interview the person who may be handling your life savings.
There is an old saying that you don’t get a second chance at a first impression. This is particularly important when you meet with your potential financial advisor. That “gut” feeling you get when you meet and talk with this person will help you decide whether this person is a fit for you.
Ask yourself are they too aggressive? Too arrogant? Too conservative? Too laid back?
Remember this person is someone whom you will be dealing with for many years. It is hard to trust someone if you don’t feel comfortable with them.
The third step is asking this financial advisor for references. Ask them, “Who are three clients of yours that I could talk to”? Now we all know that the advisor is going to give you three people that s/he knows well and gets along with. But that is not the point. The point is the advisor’s reaction to the question. Did the financial advisor hesitate to say okay or did the financial advisor say that s/he doesn’t disclose that kind of information?
There may be a very valid reason for not wanting to tell you because it may be against the policy of the brokerage firm to give out “any” client information. Based on my experience, this is a lame excuse. But what you have done is draw out the financial advisor and the brokerage firm so it fits your needs not theirs.
Maybe you like the idea of their not disclosing any client names under any circumstances. Then again maybe you don’t like the idea of this perceived secrecy. Ask for three client names and their contact information. Call the people. Listen to what they have to say very carefully. Then decide if this is a person you can work with, feel comfortable with, and can hope to trust.