How the Financial Crisis Changes Where You Should Go to Get Financial Advice and Guidance

Normally, my articles are not personal or self serving. I explain concepts and options that people should be aware of but, if you’re not involved in the financial services industry you may not be aware of the things that I write about. But this is information that you should know, even if you don’t utilize Halas Consulting as your primary advisor. You might take one of my concepts and seek out a local advisor, he might gain you as a client without having to do any type of prospecting because you came in well informed and his job was half done. If this is the case, be sure to tell him that I said “You’re welcome.”

Right now the country, no, actually the world, is in the midst of a global financial crisis. While not naming any individual names the generic culprit in all of this is greed. From the very beginning, where people desired owing a home , that they never could afford, and knew it, to the people and firms that granted them loans that they didn’t deserve and were based on a fallacy, that fallacy being that home values would continue to rise and rise with no end in sight. Also, from the firms that packaged these crappy loans into securities (CMOs and CDOs), to the huge financial institutions who bought these things with dollar signs in their eyes of the high yields they will be earning on the high interest loans, and then subsequently keeping quiet when they figured out that what they spent their money on was, in some cases, worth no more than the paper it was printed on.

If you’re wondering what this all has to do with financial advice and guidance, let me explain. Some of these big institutions that caused this mess and also the “other mess” about 8 years ago are the same ones in the business of financial advice. You know the firms I speak of, right? The ones where the brokerage and investment banking arms of the same company were duping the public and while at the same time trying to get more business for their investment bank, and who can forget the late ’90s where many of these same firms were promoting tech stocks that didn’t have one drop of black ink to their names but were at the top of the “buy” list because they happened to have a “dot com” after their name, or they were involved in some wild, and exotic new biotechnology that no one really understood, but hey, anything that sounds this sexy has gotta be worth $60 for every dollar they lose.

The big financial firms that do this, can do this all that they want because sometimes they do hit it big, it’s just that those that go out and work everyday for a living don’t have the time to monitor when the market is a good buy and when it’s not. But the people to go to for financial advice are NOT the employees of these big firms as someone has to keep the gravy train rolling and their job is to find those “someones”, don’t let it be you!

The best place to go to for advice is one of the many, and growing, independent financial advisors. Their firms are known as Registered Investment Advisors, and the people that work for them are Investment Advisor Representatives. The license they hold is a Series 65 or Series 66. Preferably, they are compensated by either an hourly rate, or a percentage of assets under management which is typically around the 1% mark. This is different from a sales representative, known as a Registered Representative, who holds a Series 6 or Series 7 license, and works primarily on commission as opposed to a fee or hourly rate.

The big difference between Investment Advisor Representative and the Registered Representative is the professional standard that they are held to. A Registered Representative is held to a “suitability standard” meaning that he merely has to be able to prove that the product that he sells you is acceptable based on your needs, risk tolerance and time horizon. It may not be the best product for your needs. Heck, he might not even sell the best product, therefore he won’t make any money if he tells you about it. The Investment Advisor Representative, however, is held to a higher standard. All Registered Investment Advisor firms and those that work for them have a fiduciary duty to always act in the best interests of their client.

Let me give you an example of how this works. Let’s say we have a 38 year old married professional who wants to invest $50,000 that will be needed in about eight years from now. The money is currently in a non-qualified savings account (that means it’s taxable), and the investor is interested in keeping his expenses low as he has heard that high expenses and fees eat into investment returns.

If he goes to a Registered Representative, he will more than likely be recommended a portfolio of mutual funds held either by the fund families themselves or in a brokerage “wrap account” which has additional fees. The mutual funds will more than likely be funds with a front or back end sales charge as that’s how the Registered Representative is paid. The tax issue may or may not be addressed depending on the knowledge of the Registered Representative. The Representative could address the expense issue by choosing one of the many fund families that have lower investment expenses, but again, this depends on whether or not the representative is sensitive toward fees. Also, in many of the bigger firms “shelf space”rules come in to play. The “shelf space” rules are basically that the various investment companies pay a fee to the large brokerage firms to keep their mutual funds on the the brokerage firms shelves in lieu of other funds that may or may not be better performing or less expensive. The firms Registered Representatives are strongly encouraged to use these funds on the firm’s “approved” list.

If the aforementioned professional goes to the Investment Advisor Represenative, his experience is much different. Since Investment Advisor Representative is bound to always act in the client’s best interests, the first thing he is going to do is get an idea of the time horizon, and risk tolerance, he also needs to be mindful of the tax issue as if there is a problem in the future and it can be proven that the advisor overlooked the tax issue in making his recommendations, it could be a problem for him. As far as compensation is concerned, it can be done in several ways. First, the client can pay the advisor an hourly rate and simply take the recommendations and go out on his own to implement them, maybe be on an online brokerage or even go to the Registered Representative mentioned in the above paragraph. The client can also decide to have the advisor put the money with a brokerage that he is affiliated with an either manage the money for a flat fee, usually around 1-2% or, the client can manage the money himself but pay a slightly lower fee and have the advisor monitor the accounts on a less frequent basis than a managed account and make recommendations, usually quarterly or annually. The advisor, since his choices to invest the money are not tied to his compensation nor is he limited in any way as to what investments he uses, can recommend the same investments such as the Registered Representative, as well as investments such as the newer, low cost exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are also, coincidentally, very tax efficient also. The only way the Registered Representative can use ETFs and still make money on them is if he uses one of the products that put the ETFs in a package, which of course adds another layer of fees and expenses.

In conclusion, both Registered Representatives and Investment Advisor Representatives, as well as just about everyone else got burned in this latest financial meltdown. Unfortunately, foreseeing how this was going to all play out was difficult to predict. But sunny skies will come again and the markets will be a great place to be once again, as they have been in the long haul over time. The purpose of this article was to guide you in who to go to for financial advice and guidance if you are not adept in these matters. If you are interested in only buying a product you can either go to a Registered Representative or buy it yourself online. But, if you need some guidance you more than likely want it to be with someone who is required by law to act in your best interests at all times. That person is the Investment Advisor Representative working for and Investment Advisor Representative Firm.