9 Signs You Need to Fire Your Financial Planner
In tough economic times, financial planners are on the front lines. They are the gateway to investment returns when the markets are good, and are the buffer against financial disaster when the markets are bad.
When I was in the financial planning business and markets experienced corrections of sorts, my colleagues and I would brace ourselves for something called “statement shock”. Clients would receive and open their quarterly or monthly statements, and regardless of whether they were keeping up with the news of market performance and understood the circumstances, they would experience a certain degree of shock when they realized how their own dollars and cents were affected.
There were three possible outcomes from this onset of statement shock:
- They would realize that it is a function of the markets and not the planner and stay the course
- The would call their financial planner for some reassuring words of encouragement and possibly ask for a meeting to devise a new action plan
- They would look for a new financial planner
I was lucky. Most of my clients fell into categories one and two. I worked hard to educate them, work within their tolerances for risk, and was there to hold their hands when they needed it. This also usually put me on the receiving end of new clients who were in category three and displeased with their old financial planners.
But in times like these, when terms like “Meltdown Monday” and (sshhh…the “r” word) are being tossed around, financial planners around the world are waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats. Try as they may to buffer their clients against market downturns, statements will look bad. And they will be sure to hear about it. And ultimately through no fault of their own, they will lose clients.
Some planners though, will lose clients, and arguably deserve to. They will not have performed the proper amount of due diligence with their clients by assessing their investment personalities and time frames, and instead of facing the music when their clients call, they may instead choose to hide under their desks as a way to weather the storm. They will not have addressed their clients’ larger financial situation and dealt with issues like taxation, short and long term savings, and estate planning, and will instead have simply focused on returns – something which can never be promised and will never be predictable (unless you are invested solely in term deposits, in which case again I would suggest the advisor’s incompetence).
If you are experiencing statement shock, or are wondering if your financial planner is up to snuff, here are nine signs you may need to fire your financial planner:
They never asked you about your personal goals and time frames before recommending investments.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all investment plan. Although having a standard set of investment recommendations according to your stated time frame and tolerance for risk is acceptable, they must do the initial groundwork to determine who you are and what you want from your money.
Only one company’s products are recommended.
As good as that company’s products are, true diversification includes not only a range of asset classes, but also a range of investment managers. Recommending only one type of or company-labeled product indicates that the advisor is not providing truly unbiased advice.
You received no written financial plan, prospectus, or documentation.
Every investment product should be accompanied by a detailed written description of the investment, including its composition, historical performance, and inherent risks and rewards. This is generally covered in the prospectus, which is a bare minimum of what you should receive. Better yet though – you should also be given a written financial plan, which addresses your personal financial situation and outlines a financial road map to reaching your goals – both short and long term.
You are pressured into making investments.
Although sitting on the fence forever is an advisor’s nightmare and sometimes clients need a little extra push, undue pressure into doing something you are uncomfortable with is not right. Even if the recommendations are sound, if you get bad vibes from high-pressure sales tactics, your ability to communicate with this advisor and for them to listen to your needs is going to be problematic going forward.
Your planner’s recommendations don’t match your financial goals.
You say you want to save up to buy a house, and your advisor recommends high-risk long-term investments. Something is not jiving here, and it is likely that they are either not listening to your needs, or are not acting in your best interest.
You can never reach your advisor when you want to, and they don’t return your phone calls.
With an onset of statement shock, you need to talk to somebody. Often big problems and feelings of discomfort can be alleviated with a simple phone call and a reassurance that staying the course is the best thing to do. But if you can never reach your advisor, if they pawn you off on an assistant, or if they don’t return your phone calls promptly, they are not doing their job.
They constantly change your investments.
Seeing a regular list of transactions coming through may lead you to believe your portfolio is being actively managed. However a true financial planner (and not a broker, who is transaction-oriented) should be focused more on the game plan and less on making money by moving it around. It’s a “slow and steady wins the race” approach. Too many transactions may also mean that they are making commissions on each move – a sign that they are not truly working for you.
The plan given to you seems too good to be true.
If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. If that tax strategy seems a little lofty, or you are introduced to a strategy that you’ve never heard of that goes in the face of everything you know to be true and legal, then you may find eventually yourself in hot water. Although the advisor may be liable, you are ultimately the one who will have to clean up the mess if your financial actions were unruly.
They tell you they can time the market.
I don’t care who your financial planner is – they can’t time the market. If they call you wanting to make drastic changes based on what they think the market is going to do, run. What they should really be focused on is you, your goals, and a plan (and portfolio) that will weather the good times and the bad. Sure – small adjustments here and there may be prudent, but moving everything in and out of different asset classes is a losing game. They may get it right a few times, but all it takes is one bad calculation to lose everything you have gained.
If it is indeed time to fire your Financial Planner:
Please do them a favour and give them a call. Sometimes things are lost in translation, or a breakdown in communication is accidental. In my experience, people can be short-sighted, focusing on returns and setting unrealistic expectations based on short term performance. When the markets are booming, people expect consistent double-digit returns and forget not-so-distant times when that wasn’t the case. And vice versa: after a stretch of poor performance, the same person may be convinced that the bad times will never end and want to stash all their money under the bed, forgetting to take the bad times with the good to achieve an overall rate of return that will help them attain their goals.
By calling your financial planner and giving them a chance to explain their actions, you may be able to save the hassle of moving your accounts and starting from scratch with a new planner.
Then again, don’t stick with a planner because it is the easy thing to do. If your financial planner is the culprit of any combination of the above mentioned blunders, it is a problem that needs to be addressed and fixed – either by finding another planner, or by tuning your existing planner in.
Statement shock sucks, through and through. But don’t take your eye off the ball because of the initial shock of seeing your investments lose value. If the markets are down overall, don’t blame your financial planner; they don’t have a crystal ball. And if they pass the acid test above, then keep communicating with them and together you will weather this market downturn, as with every other downturn. The media will sensationalize every market correction and somehow identify that this is the worst, the most dramatic, or the hardest whatever since whenever. But time and time again, slow and steady is what wins the race.