MONEY Workplace

Goldman Sachs Bans Interns from Pulling All-Nighters at the Office

Bernard Van Berg / EyeEm / Getty Images

The investment bank is putting an end to overnight work in an effort to improve interns' well-being.

Goldman Sachs has a message for its most junior employees: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here all night.

The investment bank is demanding its new summer interns be out of the office between midnight and 7am, Reuters reports. The new policy comes as financial industry, notorious for its grueling hours, tries to make banking a less stressful endeavor.

The 2013 death of a Bank of America intern in London, which may have been partially induced by fatigue, raised awareness of the finance world’s difficult working conditions and sparked reform efforts. Following the incident, Bank of America modified its policies to be more work-life friendly, and recommended analysts and associates “take a minimum of four weekend days off per month.”

Goldman, Credit Suisse, Citi Group, and other banks have made similar reforms, telling its junior bankers to take off Saturdays or weekends, and in Goldman’s case, forming a task force for quality of life issues.

Part of this reduction in hours is due to health concerns, but as the New York Times noted last year, it’s also driven by new competition from other industries, particularly technology firms, that offer the chance of riches and a personal life. This has lead more potential bankers to demand a (slightly) more livable schedule.

“My students, men and women, talk much more openly about an expectation of work-life balance,” Sonia Marciano, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, told the Times. “It’s a shift that seems pretty real and substantial.”

MONEY privacy

1 in 4 Americans Would Share Their DNA With Their Bank

test tube with DNA sequence
Zmeel Photography—Getty Images

We'd do just about anything to keep fraudsters at bay.

For most Americans, the username-password security feature isn’t good enough anymore. A quarter of consumers said they’d share their DNA with their bank, if it meant greater security for their personal and financial information, according to a survey from Telstra, a telecommunications and information services company in Australia.

About two-thirds of Americans surveyed also said they would prefer their smartphones use biometrics (i.e. a fingerprint) as the gatekeeper of secure information.

The Telstra data is based on a survey of 318 financial services executives in Europe, the U.S. and the Asia Pacific region and 4,272 consumers in seven countries — it’s unclear what share of the responses came from the U.S. or what the margin of error is.

According to the data, more than half of U.S. consumers said security of their finances and personal information is their top priority when choosing a financial institution, over things like interest rates and ease of accessing funds, which are traditionally important considerations when choosing a bank. Given the increasing popularity of mobile banking — a recent report from Javelin Strategy & Research said only 17% of consumers prefer to visit a bank branch to access their checking accounts — it makes sense that consumers would want to know there’s more than a username and password between whoever is holding their phones and their financial information.

Biometric security includes things like voice, facial, fingerprint and iris recognition, ideally ensuring only you can access your bank account on the mobile device. Many of the newest smartphones are capable of biometric security, making the features seem within reach for financial institutions.

Even if your banking app isn’t yet asking for your fingerprints, there are a lot of things you can do to increase your security. First, it’s a good idea to password-protect your phone, because your personal information isn’t limited to your banking app, and you don’t want anyone accessing that without your permission. On top of that, it’s crucial you look at information security from multiple angles: Monitor your bank accounts and credit information for signs of unauthorized activity, because despite your best efforts, it’s likely a fraudster will access and abuse your personal information at some point. As soon as you identify suspicious activity — for example, you’re checking your credit score and it dropped dozens of points for no reason you can think of — immediately investigate the problem. The sooner you alert your financial service providers and the credit reporting agency to unauthorized activity, the faster you’re likely to recover from any damage the fraudster caused. You can monitor your credit scores for free on Credit.com every month.

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MONEY

Mobile Banking Addiction Is Now a Thing

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PhotoInc—Getty Images

In one poll, nearly half of people who bank by phone admitted to checking their balances in the bathroom.

It’s not just teenagers who’d rather look at their phones than talk to people. Bank account holders feel that way too, apparently. New research from Javelin Strategy & Research suggests that consumers now prefer mobile banking to in-person branch banking.

Javelin’s survey found that 23% of consumers choose to use their smartphones as a primary access point for their checking accounts, compared to 17% who prefer to visit the branch.

Online banking still trumps all, with 39% telling Javelin they primarily access their checking accounts that way.

But making mobile phones the primary access point for one-quarter of consumers, rather than a mere add-on, represents a significant change in consumer behavior.

The rise of mobile banking is well chronicled, with the ability to remotely deposit checks a ragingly popular feature. The Federal Reserve said earlier this year that 51% of mobile bankers used “remote deposit capture” last year, up from 38% in 2013. In all, cellphone owners who’ve used mobile banking jumped from 22% in 2011 to 39% last year, the Fed says.

Perhaps that’s because consumers really do like the idea that they can bank anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Feedzai, a security firm, said its recent poll found nearly half of mobile bankers are “doing it in the bedroom.” It also found 30% banked in the bathroom, and 13% even confessed to banking while driving (don’t do that). Another 18% banked while standing in line – presumably not at the bank.

And those who do bank online are “addicted,” argues Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, which found in its survey that 55% of those who access mobile banking do so at least two to three times a week.

Javelin says heavy online bankers are more likely to be younger, female and have children in the household — in other words, they are busy — than online-first or branch-first customers.

In case you’re curious, online banking first became the most preferred banking method in 2009, according to the American Bankers Association. Previously, visiting a branch was the most popular method, followed by visiting ATMs.

Mobile banking is far from perfect, Javelin warns, which is one reason online banking remains so popular.

“Currently, mobile bankers are not able finish transactions on mobile devices and are purposefully shifted to online or branch channels for completion, causing frustration,” said Mary Monahan, Executive Vice President and Research Director at Javelin Strategy & Research. “Financial institutions should aim to create a unified view of the customer and offer a more seamless, easily navigated banking experience, to appeal to the broader user community.”

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The Elizabeth Warren Vs Jamie Dimon Feud Is Heating Up

Elizabeth Warren Campaigns With Bruce Braley For His Senate Campaign Bid
Steve PopeGetty Images Elizabeth Warren

The banker and the senator exchange a war of words

There are few words in the English language that strike fear in the hearts of Wall Street bankers like “Elizabeth Warren.”

The senior senator from Massachusetts has led the fight for tougher regulations on Wall Street, and she has an uncanny knack for marshaling public support for such an esoteric project.

Jamie Dimon, perhaps America’s most famous banker, has a way with words himself. Earlier this week, the JPMorgan [fortune-stock symbol=”JPM”] CEO disparaged the leadership in Washington, singling out Warren in particular, saying: “I don’t know if she fully understands the global banking system,” according to a Bloomberg News report.

On Friday, Warren fired back, saying on a Huffington Post podcast that:

“The problem is not that I don’t understand the global banking system. The problem for these guys is that I fully understand the system and I understand how they make their money. And that’s what they don’t like about me.”

This is not the first time that the two have sparred. Warren’s 2014 book A Fighting Chance describes several run ins with the JPMorgan CEO, in which they disagreed over banking regulations.

MONEY Banking

How to Get Bank Alerts on Your Phone

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Peathegee Inc—Getty Images/Blend Images RM

They're the best way to stop fraudsters.

If you haven’t already signed up to get alerts on your mobile phone from your credit card issuer, what are you waiting for?

Mobile alerts can tell you within minutes if your card is used in another country or if your payment is overdue. They can save you the embarrassment of being blocked at the cash register if a transaction seems suspicious by asking you via two-way text if the purchase is legitimate. And as I recently learned firsthand, they can help you catch fraud almost instantly.

I had just started receiving mobile notifications of every transaction on my American Express card when a transaction I didn’t recognize for $748 popped up. I immediately got on the phone. Sure enough, it was fraud. And even though AmEx hadn’t flagged it as a suspicious transaction, I was able to shut it down right away because I saw it.

That’s the beauty of mobile alerts and notifications, said Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research: “It’s a way to involve the customer and deputize them, because they often know better than the banks if something is legitimate or not.”

The alerts can also help you manage your personal finances by alerting you before a payment is due, if your balance goes over a specific amount or if you’re close to your credit limit. About four in every 10 consumers today have received some kind of alert from a financial institution, according to a Javelin report published in April. The company predicts that number will rise to more than half of U.S. consumers by 2019.

However, the report said most banks aren’t doing enough to promote their alerts, that it’s confusing and difficult for customers to enroll, and the alerts are “remarkably difficult” to turn on. “Finding alerts settings is akin to a Where’s Waldo’ search,” the authors wrote.

Since the issuers may not make it easy, here’s what you need to know to sign up:

How do you want to get your alerts?
You can get alerts through email, text message or “push notifications” that pop up in the status bar or notification tray of your cellphone. Email alerts are still the most common, according to Javelin, with 36 percent of consumers receiving them, compared to 22 percent for texts and 14 percent for notifications. Here are the pros and cons of the different types:

  • Email: Every bank surveyed by Javelin offers email alerts, and this type has been around the longest. The problem, of course, is that some folks don’t have email on their phones. Even if you do, you may not check it regularly. “Fraudulent transactions happen fast,” said Julie Conroy, research director at Aite Group. “A thief will do a little testing and then go to town, so it’s important to catch fraud as quickly as possible.”
  • Text message: About 95 percent of banks allow their customers to receive at least some financial alerts via text. Because we’re conditioned to give texts our immediate attention, this type of alert is a good choice for news you consider urgent. “Since you use texts to communicate with people, it might be annoying to get a text for every transaction,” Conroy said. “Also make sure you consider whether you’re going to incur charges for texts.” Some banks offer two-way texts that pop up instantly on your phone if you try to make a transaction that looks suspicious. If you respond that the purchase is legitimate, your card will go through instead of being blocked at the point of sale.
  • Push notification: This is the type of notification that I received from American Express. They pop up on your phone’s lock screen, in the banner at the top of your phone or in your “notification tray” even when you’re not using your card’s mobile app. They are more likely to get your attention than an email, but they’re less obtrusive than a text. Fewer than half of banks offer these, but Javelin predicts they will surpass text notifications as the No. 2 form of alert by 2019. Fueling that prediction: 45 percent of consumers surveyed said they think push notifications from their bank would be valuable, even though only 14 percent receive them.

When do you want to get an alert?
Signing up for at least some mobile alerts should be “a no-brainer choice for the customer,” said Brian Riley, principal executive adviser at CEB TowerGroup. “You don’t necessarily need an alert for every transaction. But everyone should want some type of notification,” he said.

Most issuers allow you to customize the type of notifications you receive and how you get them, so you can make sure you don’t get too many. “Typically there’s a control panel that says, ‘Text me or email me based on these specific conditions,'” Riley said. You can also turn them on or off anytime.

Some alerts are designed to enhance security; others help you stay on top of your personal finances. Here are some options you may see:

Security alerts:

  • Suspicious transaction: When issuers suspect fraud, they automatically try to contact you. But federal law requires them to get permission before they can notify you via text instead of calling you or sending an email.
  • Card-not-present transaction: This notifies you anytime a purchase is made without a swipe, so it’s mostly Internet transactions. “These transactions are much more vulnerable to fraud because all they need is your account number, not your actual card,” Riley said, “so this option should be first on your list.”
  • Gasoline transaction: Gas stations are another hot spot for thieves; you’ll be notified anytime a purchase is made at one.
  • International transaction: Because a lot of fraud originates overseas, this can be a good way to catch fraud if you rarely travel abroad; you can turn it off when you leave the country.
  • Transactions over a preset amount: You can choose to be notified of every transaction over a specific dollar amount. If you choose $0, you’ll be alerted to every transaction; set a higher dollar amount to minimize the number of alerts.

Personal finance alerts:

  • Available credit: Sent when your credit falls below a specified amount you set.
  • Balance: Sent anytime your credit card balance exceeds an amount you set. This can be particularly useful if you have multiple people using your card or if you’re trying to stay within a budget.
  • Low balance: An alert if the balance in an account linked to your debit card falls below a specified amount.
  • Payment due: Notifies you a specified number of days before a payment is due.
  • Missed payment: Sent if no payment was received by the due date.

How to sign up
Banks are cautious about automatic enrollment, Schwanhausser said, because “they don’t want their customers to feel like they’re being spammed or overwhelmed.” Most send automatic security alerts via email (or through a call to your home phone) anytime your personal information or settings are changed or if they notice suspicious activity.

To start getting text messages or push notifications to your cellphone, you have to proactively sign up. Though it can be difficult to enroll, it’s worth doing simply so your bank can reach you quickly on your cell if it detects suspicious activity. “It’s also a lot more convenient for you to hit reply to a text and say, ‘Yes, this was my transaction,’ or ‘No, it wasn’t,’ than to get an email about something and have to take the time to call in,” Conroy noted.

Every card has a slightly different process, but here are the basic steps to start getting text message alerts:

  • Log in to your card’s website.
  • Look for something in the menu that says “manage alerts” or “go to alerts.” If you don’t see the word ‘alerts,’ you may have to click on “Profile” or “Settings.”
  • Look for an option that will allow you to put in your mobile number, change your contact information or add text messages.
  • Because federal law requires you to opt in to receive text, you’ll have to activate the service by entering a code that the bank will send as a text.
  • Most issuers then list the types of alerts you can receive and how you want to receive them (email or text). Make your choices and then hit save.

To start getting push notifications, follow these steps:

  • First, find out if your card issuer offers the service. Javelin’s report in April said the following financial institutions were using push notifications, but more banks are adding them every day: American Express, Bank of America, M&T, BBVA compass, Regions, Chase, USAA, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third.
  • Download the institution’s mobile app.
  • In most cases, you can add push notifications through an app menu option that says something like “Manage alerts.” If you don’t see it as an option in the mobile app, you may have to add push notifications through the card’s website. Call the phone number on the back of your card if you’re having trouble.
  • Once enrolled, you may still have to change the settings on your phone to “allow notifications” from your bank’s mobile app. On most phones, you can go to settings and look for “notifications.” Some, including iPhones, let you decide whether to turn on sounds and badges with the notifications.

After my own experience with fraud, I took the time to turn on mobile alerts for all of my active credit cards and bank accounts (it did take some time and a few phone calls). To keep my messages box from filling up, I elected to receive texts only for news I considered urgent: suspicious activity, a low balance or a payment missed. But I’m receiving push notifications on my phone for most other transactions, and so far, I haven’t minded the extra communication. In fact, I take comfort in knowing that if fraud happens, I’ll catch it quickly.

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MONEY credit cards

Sex Pistols Credit Cards Are Here and Punk Rock Dies a Little

The Sex Pistols lead singer John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, performs at the Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria September 5, 2008.
Vincent West—Reuters The Sex Pistols lead singer John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, performs at the Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria September 5, 2008.

When anarchist punk rock and 18.9% APR credit cards collide.

“Don’t know what I want / But I know how to get it.” That’s what Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols “sang” (to use the term loosely) in the angry, seminal song for the ages “Anarchy in the U.K.”

The lyrics probably aren’t referring to getting anything with the assistance of a credit card—banking and capitalism are hardly punk rock, after all. But in a surprising move that calls to mind another passage from “Anarchy in the U.K.” (“Your future dream is a shopping scheme”), a new line of Sex Pistols-themed credit cards has just been launched in the U.K.

150609_EM_SexPistolsVirginCardThe cards come courtesy of Virgin Money, the U.K. banking group formed under the leadership of serial entrepreneur Richard Branson—who also just so happened to sign the Sex Pistols to his Virgin Records label nearly four decades ago. “In 1977 Virgin Records signed one of their most iconic bands, The Sex Pistols,” the Virgin Money site states. “They challenged convention and the established way of thinking—just as we are doing today in our quest to shake up UK banking.”

“To bring a bit of rebellion to your wallet,” Virgin Money has introduced three different Sex Pistols-themed cards featuring the names and imagery of the band, including an “Anarchy in the U.K.” card and two cards with the controversial title of the album “Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols.”

If you don’t know why the title is controversial, you’re probably not from the U.K. In America, the word “bollocks” has mostly come to be understood as meaning “nonsense” or perhaps “bull****” and has been used in a highly touted ad campaign for New Castle Brown Ale. In the U.K., however, while the term can also mean “rubbish,” it is often used as vulgar slang for “testicles.”

And now that word is on a credit card with variable 18.9% APR for those with good credit histories.

TIME Credit

Why MasterCard Should Buy American Express

World Series - Kansas City Royals v San Francisco Giants - Game Three
Rob Carr—Getty Images A fan uses MasterCard with Apple Pay to pay for garlic fries before Game Three of the 2014 World Series at AT&T Park on October 24, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

It's the smartest way to take on Visa

Last week, American Express was hit by tragedy when its President, Ed Gilligan, died unexpectedly. Sad as Gilligan’s death is, it’s only the latest setback for the charge card pioneer associated with the famous tagline ‘Don’t leave home without it’. Fierce competition from payment processing giant Visa, the loss of high profile clients like Costco, pushback from merchants, and antitrust probes have plagued the company in recent years and resulted in large layoffs.

Amex’s Q1 2015 earnings were slightly better than in 2014 and the company continues to be the second largest credit card brand in the U.S., but it accounted for only 15% of total purchase volume in 2014 compared to 56% for Visa, according to Nilson Report statistics analyzed by MarketWatch. Even MasterCard, which held 26% of the market, lagged far behind Visa. Part of Amex’s problem is a lack of debit card products, but even when comparing only credit card transactions, Visa was the sole vendor to show an increase.

For these and other reasons, this might be a good time for MasterCard to consider buying Amex.

Brand Value and Marketing Expertise

MasterCard may enjoy wide usage but Amex has held the highest rank in customer satisfaction for several years running, according to consumer survey firm J.D. Powers. The brand value of Amex’s sterling reputation and expertise in helping customers resolve fraud, merchant error, and other problems, as well as its popular rewards programs and extensive travel-related services, should not be underestimated.

There is also Amex’s closed loop model through which it manages the entire payment process from start to finish. That enables the company to collect reams of data on its customers, an extremely valuable marketing tool. MasterCard can leverage all these to improve its own offerings and differentiate them further from Visa.

Lending Capabilities

Even though Amex makes most of its money from the fees it charges merchants- its primary charge card model requires balances to be paid off in full and therefore doesn’t generate much in interest – its ability to lend is a huge advantage that could enhance MasterCard’s bargaining power with banks and other financial institutions that use its payment network.

The reason this is significant is because it would enable the company to lower the interchange fees that it needs to charge merchants in order to entice banks to lend. Such fees have come increasingly under fire by both regulators and merchants but MasterCard has been at the mercy of the banks. Having its own balance sheet through Amex, however, would give MasterCard the leverage it needs to negotiate better rates that don’t alienate merchants.

Valuable Customer Base

Amex’s customer base skews wealthier than that of MasterCard due to the appeal of its high end perks and luxury brand image, according to a study by wealth-research firm Phoenix Marketing International cited by Bloomberg. It also commands a large share of the business credit card market through its ubiquitous Corporate Card, as pointed out by investor site Motley Fool.

This is, in fact, the primary reason that Amex can charge high interchange fees. A wealthy demographic translates into higher revenues for merchants since individual transactions tend to be larger and because corporations and wealthy individuals are more likely to use plastic to pay for purchases than cash. While some merchants have objected to Amex’s higher fees, they are also hesitant to turn away the rich customer base the company delivers to them.

In the same vein, by acquiring Amex, MasterCard would gain access to this lucrative client base. It’s also possible that a combined MasterCard-Amex could offer a ‘blended’ fee structure for both types of cards that merchants find acceptable but which preserves profitability for the merged company.

Complementary Strengths and Increased Market Power

Just as MasterCard could benefit from Amex’s cachet amongst businesses and wealthy cardholders, Amex needs MasterCard’s platform to reach mainstream consumers. There was, for example, the loss of Amex’s key account with Costco, estimated by analysts to be worth about $80 billion in billed business, to a Visa card from Citigroup. And even as Amex makes overtures to smaller customers, Visa has been going aggressively after its wealthy clients with its Black Card, better incentives, and luxury concierge services. In other words, Amex is under fire on both fronts.

MasterCard also provides debit card services for banks and other financial institutions, a rapidly growing segment that accounted for 42% of all card transactions in 2014 but one that Amex doesn’t play in at all.

By merging, Amex and MasterCard could potentially take advantage of each other’s complementary product lines and expertise in serving their respective customer bases, which would enable them to take on Visa with considerably more market power.

Financially Feasible Acquisition

While MasterCard’s stock price has risen by more than 20% over the past year, Amex shares have fallen by 16%. That makes Amex a cost-effective buy. Moreover, Amex trades at a lower price-to-earnings multiple of 14x compared to 28x for MasterCard. That fact would make the acquisition of Amex highly accretive to MasterCard’s earnings in an all-stock deal since each share of Amex would bring a proportionally larger share of earnings to the latter company.

In fact, the present vulnerability of Amex due to its challenges offers an ideal opportunity for MasterCard to snap up the company at a reasonable price and start giving its arch rival Visa a serious run for its money.

Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has evaluated mergers and acquisitions in the technology, media, and telecom sectors for leading investment banks, including PaineWebber, and provided strategic consulting to media companies and hedge funds. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and received an award for ethics in business while in the program. Kumar does not own any shares of the companies mentioned in this article.

TIME Banking

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon Has a Brand New Title

The Davos World Economic Forum 2014
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images James "Jamie" Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., pauses during a break in sessions on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.

It's a rare achievement among bank executives

The JPMorgan Chase & Co stock is up, and along with it, so is Jamie Dimon’s wealth.

According to today’s Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Dimon is now a billionaire, with an estimated $1.1 billion in net worth. It helps that shares of JPMorgan (JPM) closed yesterday at $66.08, just pennies away from an all-time high of $66.39. The bank has been performing exceedingly well in recent months, along with many of its peers, as the American economy comes surging back.

Dimon is extremely well paid—the executive took home a reported $20 million last year in combined cash and stock, and earned the same in 2013.

But that kind of pay, on its own, isn’t enough to create a billionaire. Nearly half of Dimon’s estimated wealth comes from his $485 million stake in JPMorgan, which he helped build into the world’s biggest investment bank. The rest comes from a strong investment portfolio derived from selling 2.3 million shares of Citigroup in 1998 when he left that company.

It’s rare for a retail bank executive to achieve the billionaire mark. Typically, it’s hedge fund managers that obtain such high net worth. As Bloomberg notes, this news puts Dimon in rare company along with titans like George Soros as well as Dimon’s own mentor, Sandy Weill.

 

TIME Retirement

The Retirement Risk We All Share

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Getty Images

Our retirement system is as hard to understand, opaque, and predatory as ever

As wealth begins to get transferred from baby boomers to the millennial generation—the largest single generation in history and within five years fully half of our nation’s workforce—many social contracts that were enjoyed by the parents and grandparents will not be relied upon, or available, for their children. Two financial bubbles have burst: American cities have gone bankrupt, and the notion of guaranteed pensions has come to seem like a relic from a more innocent time in the world where society paid back its firefighters, teachers, and hard-working middle class for keeping us safe, educating our children, and ensuring the engine of our economy keeps running. So pronounced is this breakdown between our country, our corporations, and our workers that entire political campaigns are won and lost over middle class workers and the pensions they receive in retirement.

Corporations don’t want any part of guaranteed pensions. It’s too expensive, their shareholders don’t like it, and it crimps profits. Neither do governments—politicians are laser focused on the next election cycle and would rather divert taxpayer dollars toward shiny new concepts that will get them re-elected over boring old public pension funds. Today, only 1 in 5 workers in corporate America still has access to a guaranteed pension. Half of American workers have no access to any workplace retirement plan whatsoever. That’s right: in the future, we are going to own all of this risk. We’d better learn to make good decisions for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the 401(k) system is as hard to understand, opaque, and predatory as ever. Two thirds of Americans do not know that they pay fees on their 401K plans, and 90% of people could not accurately tell you what these fees are. Why? Because they never actually write a check to anyone—the fees are automatically deducted from their accounts. I challenge you to go log in to your employer’s 401(k) plan now, and figure out within 5 minutes, or 5 hours, or 5 days the total amount of fees you pay per year. You won’t find it. And it is a huge amount of money. Lifetime fees for the average American household are greater than $150,000 and can erode a third of total savings. Broadly speaking, total mutual fund fees could be the least-known and least-understood $600 billion that come out of Americans pockets every year.

We need to make this far simpler for people. It should be law that you can only give people advice on their 401(k) or IRA, or futures for that matter, if you owe them a legal fiduciary duty to only act in their best interest. Fees should be disclosed in terms that people can understand. Nobody understands what “basis points” or “expense ratios” are. This is purposeful. How about: “this will cost you $5 per year?” That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Finally, hundreds of investment choices are often used as an illusion to give unsuspecting people the sense that they, too, can beat the market if they just choose right. By now, we know that beating the market is impossible and we should steer people toward the things we can control—diversification, low costs, and good savings behavior over long periods of time, and through many market cycles. Watching CNBC is a waste of time. Index funds are the way to go (although some 401(k) plans still don’t offer them).

The Obama administration and Department of Labor have been trying for years to institute protections for investors against high fees and high-risk products. But the lobbying against these protections has been vicious—billions of dollars of profits do not just go quietly into the night.

So how about a simple and effective do-it-yourself solution in the meantime? The next time someone is offering you serious advice about your retirement or the stock market, print this out and ask them to sign this statement:

“I ________, as your advisor, will act as a fiduciary and only give you advice that is in your best interest.”

If your advisor will not sign this statement—for your own good—run as fast as you can in the other direction and find one of the many advisors that will. It could save you tens of thousands of dollars and years in retirement.

In a world where we are left to fend for ourselves in retirement, the stakes are too high not to at least make sure that someone is legally obligated to tell you the right thing to do. Your 65-year-old self will thank you for it some day.

Greg Smith is president of blooom, an online service that evaluates, simplifies, and manages 401(k) accounts for individuals, and the best-selling author of Why I Left Goldman Sachs: A Wall Street Story.

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