MONEY financial advisers

Cleaning Up After Another Financial Adviser’s Bad Advice

broken piggy bank fixed with tape
Corbis—Alamy

Explaining to clients that another financial adviser has given them bum advice can be awkward. Here's how I do it.

Average Americans have a poor opinion about financial advisers, and with good reason. Too many “advisers” are just salespeople for products that generate commissions for the adviser but rarely deliver the promised investment returns to the client.

As a financial adviser myself, I often see unsuitable investments in prospective clients’ portfolios. I can’t just badmouth those clients’ current adviser. If I point out how this adviser has abused their trust, how are they going to trust me? What can I tell the prospect about another adviser’s bad advice without dragging myself down to his or her level?

Recently I reviewed the investment statements of a prospect family who owned about $1 million in assets in joint taxable accounts and IRAs. The IRAs were invested primarily in variable annuities. The family had already shown me that their retirement income needs were covered by pensions. Their primary interest was in asset transfer to their children.

There’s nothing wrong with variable annuities if used for the proper purpose. For example, clients may have already maxed out 401(k) contributions but still want to set aside additional cash in tax deferred investments. However, there is no reason, in my opinion, why you would ever put a variable annuity inside an IRA. There is no additional tax benefit, but there is an extra layer of cost and complexity and there is a loss of liquidity due to surrender charges. If you don’t like the investment returns of the annuity, it could cost you up to 11% or up to 11 years to get out.

There’s a wrong way and a right way to deliver bad news. The wrong way is a declarative statement along the lines of, “You idiots were totally taken advantage of.” The prospects tend to grab their papers and stomp out the door.

The right way is to engage the prospect in a series of questions and answers; that educates clients without making them feel stupid.

“Tell me about your thought process when you purchased these annuities,” I asked.

“Our broker explained that the annuity would grow tax-free with the stock market, and then at a certain point we could convert to a term annuity which would pay out a level payment for the rest of our lives.”

“Did he note that your assets are already in an IRA?” I asked. “Where growth is tax-free already?”

“No,” they replied.

“Did he tell you that you could also achieve growth by investing in a basket of mutual funds?”

“No.”

“Did he advise you that once you convert to a fixed annuity, there’s no residual value for your children?”

“No.”

“Did he explain that, because of the various fees loaded onto your investment, you were likely to have sub-par returns?”

“No.”

“Did he explain what the surrender charge is?”

“Sure!” they replied. “That’s the insurance company’s way of making sure we stay committed to the annuity.”

“That’s the marketing department’s answer to what a surrender charge is,” I said. “What the insurance company doesn’t tell you is that they paid a commission of up to 11% to your broker on the sale, which the insurance company amortizes over the next 11 years at one percentage point a year. So if you exit in year five, there’s still 6% of that 11% commission to recover, hence the 6% remaining surrender charge.”

By this point, the couple was looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Look,” I said, “there may have been some other reason why he recommended this strategy. All I can say is that for the needs that you have described, I would have invested you in a plain vanilla basket of fixed income and equity mutual funds. We would have complete flexibility to adjust the asset allocation over time. If for some reason you weren’t happy, you could cancel your relationship with me with an e-mail, no surrender charge. We apply a monthly advisory fee to the assets in this plan, which is 1/12 of 0.75%. The fees you pay me are computed and disclosed to you in our monthly report. As your assets rise in value, so does our monthly fee, so no mystery about my incentives.”

Nobody likes to find out that their current adviser isn’t focused on their best interests — that is, a fiduciary. I provide information, let the prospects draw their own conclusion.

We turned to other topics, and I followed up with a formal investment proposal a few days later. I was not surprised that the family decided a few weeks later to move their accounts to my firm, nor was I surprised that the annuity accounts would trickle in only after the surrender charges had expired. Even though the family had concluded that they had received a raw deal from their current adviser, those annuities still were locked in for a few more years.

———-

David Edwards is president of Heron Financial Group | Wealth Advisors, which works closely with individuals and families to provide investment management and financial planning services. Edwards is a graduate of Hamilton College and holds an MBA in General Management from Darden Graduate School of Business-University of Virginia.

MONEY financial advice

CEO of World’s Largest Mutual Fund Company Shares His Best Financial Advice

The CEO of the world's largest mutual fund company shares the best financial advice he ever got and reveals his biggest money mistake.

MONEY Financial Planning

The Hazards of Financial Advisers Who Are ‘Just Like Family’

Andrew Olney/Getty Images

Trust should be a byproduct of skill and integrity — not a marketing tool.

We financial planners may know more about our clients than their doctors do. We are often among the first to know when clients’ families are affected by significant life events such as engagements, pregnancies, career successes and setbacks, or serious illnesses.

Does that mean clients should think of their planners as part of the family? According to a recent article by Deborah Nason for CNBC, some planners would like clients to see them in that light.

I was one of the professionals interviewed for the article, which discussed planners providing emotional support for clients and building long-term relationships with them. It also addressed the impact these services have on client retention rates.

My firm’s client-centered services focus on clients’ emotional as well as financial well-being. Still, I was uncomfortable with the tone of part of the piece, especially statements like: “. . . advisors are serving as thinking partners, therapists, surrogate family members and community organizers” and “Some advisors set out intentionally to become part of the client’s extended family.”

Some of my unease came from one essential word that was missing from the article: integrity. My guess is that for the advisers quoted, integrity is such a given that they didn’t think to mention it. Supporting clients’ well-being with services like financial coaching only serves clients well when it is built on a solid platform of professional skill and integrity. The only way to build the trust that is such an essential aspect of comprehensive financial planning is by being trustworthy.

Both clients and planners need to be fully aware — not just at the beginning of their professional relationship, but as they work together over time — of the importance of that essential foundation of integrity and skill. It has to be maintained through transparency and professional safeguards. Otherwise, a “family” relationship could obscure an adviser’s lack of knowledge in a particular area or make it very hard for a client to question advice that may not serve them well.

To take this one step further, it’s wise to remember one of the reasons unscrupulous con artists are able to fleece unwary customers out of millions of dollars. They have honed the ability to manipulate people’s emotions to persuade customers to trust them, and they then abuse that trust.

Also a matter of integrity is the question of whether it’s even appropriate for planners to “set out to become part of the client’s family.” This has the potential to lead to a manipulative and patronizing view of clients.

Serving clients’ best interests in a fiduciary relationship is the opposite of viewing them as customers to be sold a service. Planners who “sell . . . the relationship,” as one adviser quoted by Nason put it, run the risk of putting their agenda and their goal of creating a relationship ahead of the clients’ agenda and goals. There is nothing wrong with wanting clients for life; such long-term relationships can certainly serve clients well. But those relationships are built, not sold.

One of my clients who read the article told me: “I don’t want a planner to set out to ‘become part of my family.’ I want a planner to provide an impeccable level of service and trustworthiness that invites me to start thinking of him or her as ‘family’ — eventually, if that is comfortable for me.”

This, I think, is at the heart of client-centered fiduciary planning. Over time, advisers might become ‘family’ because of their integrity, advocacy, or chemistry, but such close relationships should always originate with the clients. Moving into such a position of trust has to be earned and only comes by invitation.

———-

Rick Kahler, ChFC, is president of Kahler Financial Group, a fee-only financial planning firm. His work and research regarding the integration of financial planning and psychology has been featured or cited in scores of broadcast media, periodicals and books. He is a co-author of four books on financial planning and therapy. He is a faculty member at Golden Gate University and the former president of the Financial Therapy Association.

MONEY financial advisers

The 3 Biggest Money Worries of First-Time Parents

first time parents
Ashley Gill—Getty Images

Good news, explains a financial planner: They're easily addressed.

Over the last 13 years I’ve worked with countless millennials preparing to embark on their journey to parenthood. First-time parents are concerned about many things, starting with feeding their newborn, keeping the little one healthy, or just sleeping through the night (for both parent and baby).

Amid the whirlwind of emotions a single parent or couple may go through leading into the birth of their first child, I’ve found that first-time parents all find themselves confronting the same three financial questions:

  1. How will we afford this baby?
  2. How will we pay for college?
  3. What if something happens to us?

As a financial adviser, I often find myself counseling first-time parent trying to process it all. The great news is that all three of these questions can be answered with a little bit of planning.

1. How will we afford this baby?
You can count on new and unexpected expenses with your little one on the way. Many of my new-parent clients have found that three of the most significant expenses in the first year are daycare, diapers, and baby food. By increasing your monthly contributions to a liquid investment savings account, you can get a head start on changing your spending habits and begin to prepare for costs you know are coming.

2. How will we pay for college?
College is getting more expensive every year. If you want to put your money to work, start saving early and take advantage of time and compound returns. A 529 college savings plan offers you 100% federal tax-free growth for qualified higher-education expenses. (State tax advantages vary from state to state and may depend on whether you are a resident of the state sponsoring the plan.) As the parent, you retain complete control of the assets. To help bolster their child’s college fund, many parents encourage family and friends to contribute to their child’s 529 plan instead of giving toys or other presents for major events like birthdays and graduations.

3. What if something happens to us?
It probably isn’t going to hit you in the first trimester, or maybe even the second, but it’s a realization so many parents reach by the time their newborn comes home to the nursery: What if something happens to us? Most new parents have never had to sit down and plan for contingencies like death. But the moment you have someone depending on you — both financially and emotionally — for the next 20-plus years, it hits you: “I need a plan.” For many, this plan has two major pieces that ultimately answer two questions:

a. Who will take care of my baby? An estate planning attorney can help you gather information and consider some important issues designed to protect your family. Through your estate plan you can dictate guardianship instructions for your baby, control over the distribution of your assets, and medical directives.
b. Who will pay all my baby’s expenses? Life insurance can provide your child, or your child’s guardian, with a lump sum payout upon your death. Term life insurance is typically the least expensive, and thus the most common, option; you pay a set amount each month over a certain number of years, and in turn are guaranteed a death benefit should you die during that term. The policy’s lump sum payout can help your beneficiaries cover the costs you would have otherwise paid.

By starting your planning early, you can set aside the extra cash you’ll need when your family’s newest addition arrives, split the college bill with your old pal “compound returns,” and prepare for the unthinkable. Once you have these pieces in place, you’ll have your mind clear to focus on what is most important — your family. (And your sleep.)

Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

MONEY financial advisers

A Good Financial Planner Is Like This Year’s Hot Pitching Prospect

150511_ADV_Pitcher
Nick Turchiaro—USA Today Sports/Reuters Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Daniel Norris throws a pitch during first inning in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Rogers Centre.

Like the Blue Jays' Daniel Norris, a good financial planner is true to him- or herself.

“Stop asking questions, Maurer, and do what I tell you to do,” said the general agent for the Baltimore region of a major life insurance company.

At the time, early in my career, I was sure this guy watched Glengarry Glen Ross every morning before work. His lines were a little different, but they were no less rehearsed.

“I made over a million dollars last year!”

“I buy a new Cadillac every two years — cash on the barrelhead.”

I was told how to dress: Dark suits, white shirts, and “power ties” that weren’t too busy. Light blue shirts were allowed on Wednesdays. Never wear sweat pants, even to the gym. Enter and exit the gym in a suit. Your hair should never touch your ears or your neck. Facial hair was strictly forbidden. Jeans, outlawed.

When you have a “big fish on the hook,” invite them to the Oregon Grille, one of the nicer restaurants in the rolling horse country north of Baltimore. Get there a half-hour early and tell the maître d’ your name so that he can use it when you return shortly with your guest. Ask where you’ll be seated and pre-greet your waiter. Also let him know your name — along with your “regular” drink, so that you can ask for it momentarily.

As one in a class of newly minted “financial advisers,” who was I to argue with this six-foot-five collegiate lineman as he passionately outlined his method of perception manipulation? Who was I to argue with a million-dollar income and cash on the barrelhead?

Who was I to be original in a world that ranked sales and profit above, well, everything? Who was I to be myself?

This is the old school, and, thankfully, a new school is emerging. The new school doesn’t eschew teamwork, but it questions uniformity. The new school doesn’t worship individuality, but it also doesn’t fear personality. The new school isn’t anti-profit, but it refuses to elevate sales above the personhood of the advisor or the best interest of the client.

While the old school is proprietary and exclusive, the new school is open-sourced and inclusive. The old school insists while the new school nudges. The old school deflects questions and denies suggestions for improvement while the new school welcomes both.

The old school crafts a narrative to which it requires conformity. The new school sees the benefit in allowing advisers to tell their own story and attract the clients who resonate with it.

The financial services industry is not the only realm where this is true. Insistence on conformity may be even more evident in professional baseball, where one of the MLB’s most promising young pitchers is putting convention to the test.

Daniel Norris is a 22-year-old surfer dude who lives in a WalMart parking lot. His ride, a 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia, doubles as his residence. His manner and method might cause any prospective employer to hesitate before bringing him into the fold. But his ability to mow down major league batters with a fastball consistently in the mid-90s earned him a $2 million signing bonus and a spot on the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster. Of course, he’s instructed his agent to limit his allowance to only $10,000. Per year.

Here are three reasons why nonconformity is working for Daniel Norris and could also work for you:

1. He’s authentic. He’s not being different just for the sake of being different. He’s not rebelling against convention as much as he’s being true to himself and his values.

The point isn’t to not be everyone else, but to be yourself. This means that if dark suits, white shirts, power ties and Cadillacs are your thing, that’s what you should wear and drive. But if you prefer no ties—or bow ties—and Levi’s, well, you get the idea.

2. He’s a great teammate. There are certainly players who’ve questioned his unorthodoxy, but no one questions his dedication. “He’s in great shape. He competes on the mound,” says Blue Jays assistant general manager Tony LaCava. “He has great values, and they’re working for him.” And for Toronto.

Being yourself doesn’t mean being on an island. Some, like Norris, might thrive off of extended periods of solitude, but our greatest work often complements and affirms the great work of others.

3. He’s good. Really stinkin’ good. His 11.8 “strikeouts per nine innings” ratio was the best in the minors last season, according to ESPN. And he’s competing for a starting role in the majors ahead of schedule. If Norris were just another dude living down by the river in an old VW bus, we’d never have known about it. That he throws a 96-mile-an-hour fastball low in the strike zone — while doing so in a way that is true to his values — is what makes him special.

If you do things differently, especially in the financial industry, you may well encounter some resistance. You’ll likely have to work harder to prove yourself. But if you do so with a high degree of excellence, you’ll earn the respect of your peers.

There are a growing number of financial advisers who have diverted from the conventional path, and to good effect.

Carl Richards drew criticism from many in the industry when he confessed his greatest financial sin, but a willingness to acknowledge his imperfection endeared him to those skeptical of the industry’s propaganda campaign regarding adviser infallibility (read: everyone).

Carolyn McClanahan gave up her career as a medical doctor when she failed to find a financial adviser who would focus on her as much as her investments. She went back to school and started a planning firm that centers on clients’ values and goals. She’s also become a recognized expert in all things money and medicine.

Recognizing the dearth of women in the advisory realm, Manisha Thakor seems to personify much that the field is lacking, this imbalance considered. Manisha became an industry thought leader, a voice for women advisors and clients.

Michael Kitces is, at heart, a nerd. He struggled with individual client interaction, but turned his passion for education and teaching into a thriving business as the adviser to advisers. “To do anything other than what I do, given my story, would feel like a violation of myself and who I am,” he told me.

How might your life and work look different if you took the same conviction to heart?

Financial planner, speaker, and author Tim Maurer, is a wealth adviser at Buckingham Asset Management and the director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance. A certified financial planner practitioner working with individuals, families and organizations, he also educates at private events and via TV, radio, print, and online media. “Personal finance is more personal than it is finance” is the central theme that drives his writing and speaking.

MONEY financial advisers

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do…With Your Financial Adviser

broken $ candy heart
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Ashley Jouhar/Getty Images

Firing a financial adviser can be uncomfortable, but certain circumstances make it necessary.

Ending a relationship is never easy. You nurture it, get comfortable with it, and you learn what to expect. Sometimes you think about walking away because you’re just not sure it’s what you want. You wonder if breaking up is worth the hassle — and you decide to stick it out, telling yourself that next year will be better. But will it? Maybe not.

Should I stay or should I go? It’s a question people regularly ask, not just about their significant other but also about their hair stylist, their personal trainer, and, yes, their financial adviser.

The idea of leaving your financial adviser — and having to find a replacement — can be daunting. It involves a lot of research, paperwork, meetings, and time. Lots of time. All that and still no guarantee that this new adviser will be any better than the old one.

But things are changing. Consumers with money to save and invest now have more affordable, higher-quality investment options to choose from. As a result, more and more people are rethinking their long-term relationships with their financial advisers.

Four percent to six percent of U.S. investors change financial advisers in a given year, according to a 2014 survey by Spectrem Group, a firm that researches investors. The reasons for these break-ups vary, but ranking high on the list are a lack of communication, frustration with complex or hidden fees, and major life events such as death, divorce, or inheritance.

It was the death of a parent that started the ball rolling for one of my clients. A smart, savvy, and accomplished woman in her mid-30s, she juggles a demanding career, marriage and motherhood. When her father, a successful real estate developer, passed away unexpectedly, she and her sisters inherited money and securities. They also inherited his long-time financial adviser.

For years, her father had trusted this adviser to work in the family’s best financial interests, and she had no plans to end the relationship. The emotional loyalty factor made it hard to jump ship. Besides, she was only paying the typical 1% fee for decent portfolio growth.

Then she did a little digging and some comparison-shopping, just for her own education, and discovered she was wrong. In fact, her adviser had invested her in an actively managed fund with significant fees. He also had recommended a new fund for her — one with a front-end load that took 5% off the top. When all was said and done, she was paying 2.3% in annual fees, not the typical 1%.

Not only was she surprised, she was furious. She felt like a trust had been broken, which is understandable. As she told me, if the financial adviser had disclosed all of the funds and fees up front, she might have reacted differently. But he didn’t, and that made it much easier for her to leave and take her retirement account with her.

So if you’re re-evaluating your adviser’s performance, consider what’s important to you and your financial goals. Do you want better communication, a lower risk factor, lower fees? Or is it just time to shake off the inertia? Whatever your reasons, if the relationship isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to kiss it goodbye.

———-

Sally Brandon is vice president of client services for Rebalance IRA, a retirement-focused investment advisory firm with almost $250 million of assets under management. In this role, she manages a wide range of retirement investing needs for over 350 clients. Sally earned her BA from UCLA and an MBA from USC.

MONEY Small Business

New Ways to Invest in Small Businesses

Cafe owners
Getty Images

When nonprofessional investors are able to put money into small businesses, everyone can benefit.

I met with Paul on Tuesday. He is the CFO of a business start-up. He’s not sure if the next phase of his company’s financing is going to go through. Although he believes in the business model and the mission of the company, some days he thinks he won’t have a job in three weeks.

I met with David on Wednesday. While he’s a great saver and earns a decent buck, he isn’t wealthy. He wants to invest in small companies so much that we’ve set up a “fun money” account, which is 10% of his otherwise well-diversified, passively managed portfolio. “Fun money” is specifically set aside so that he can make individual investments he believes in.

Because of the way small business investing is structured in this country, the likelihood of Paul and David connecting has been infinitesimally small.

This drives me mad.

It’s not just these two who are missing out. Because small companies drive job and economic growth, the economy of the country loses when Paul and David don’t connect. And because the current system of funding is biased, some small businesses are a lot less likely to get funding despite their worthy ideas.

Recent developments could change all this.

To raise their initial start up money, small business owners typically first use their savings, and then appeal to their friends and family. Next, they go to banks. If they get big enough and have certain ambitions and contacts, they can get venture capital funding or private equity funding, which is what Paul was waiting on.

These sources of capital are all enhanced if you are affluent and well connected. Do your friends and family have extra money to invest in your business? Do you know anyone you can talk to at a bank? What about impressing people in the venture capital world? A lot of people with good ideas are shut out.

Enter the Internet. Raising money got a lot easier.

The Power of Reward Sites

With reward sites, startups with good ideas raise money in exchange for rewards.

Sesame, which opens doors remotely from smartphones, raised over $1.4 million on Kickstarter.com. The reward here was a chance to order the device.

Then there is Lammily, Barbie’s realistically proportioned cousin, whose designer raised almost $500,000 through Tilt.com. The reward for funding Lammily was the chance to pre-order the doll, and sticker packs with stretch marks, cellulite, freckles, and boo-boos.

The reward sites show that companies can raise large amounts of money through small contributions from a large number of people. Research suggests that Kickstarter.com reduces company funding gender bias by an order of magnitude and reduces geographic bias as well. Reward sites cater to consumers who love new products and want to support new ideas.

You may get first dibs on a cool new doll, but sending money to a reward site isn’t investing.

The Risks of Private Equity

Traditionally, to get private equity funding, you have to sell to accredited investors — the richest 1% of the population, roughly speaking.

Accredited investor regulations were set up in in the wake of the 1929 crash, when a lot of people got ripped off because they invested in dubious enterprises. The idea was that people with a high level of wealth are sophisticated enough to understand investment risk. Unfortunately, this leaves the Davids of the world — investors who are sophisticated but wealthy — shut out of these types of investments.

Private equity placements are not always a great deal. When I’ve looked into them for clients, I’ve concluded they are expensive, risky, and difficult to get out of, even if you die. The middlemen who offer these and the advisers who sell these seem to be the ones most likely to make money. The best deals I’ve looked at weren’t hawked by sales people or investment advisers, but came through clients’ friends and family.

The rise of Internet portals set up to connect small companies with accredited investors has the potential to cut down on intermediary costs. Still, the sector remains small.

In 2012, President Obama signed the JOBS act, which directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to devise rules opening up small business investing to non-accredited investors.

Some organizations didn’t wait for the SEC to issue the rules. Instead, they dusted off exemptions in the securities legislation that most of us have ignored for 80 years.

States Get Into the Act

Some states have picked up on crowdfunding to boost their economies. Terms vary, but generally investors are subject to investment limits and companies are subject to a cap on raising money. Each individual, for example, might be limited to investing $10,000; each company might be limited to raising $1 million. Both investor and company are generally required to reside in the state.

This is music to ears of people who want to invest locally. The first successful offering using this type of exemption was in Georgia in 2013, where Bohemian Guitars raised approximately $130,000 through SparkMarket.com.

Other Exemptions

Village Power is another example of raising money using an exemption. This intermediary helps organizations set up and fund solar power projects. Village Power coaches their community partners to use an exemption in the SEC rules, which allows for up to 35 local, non-accredited investors.

New Rules Open Doors

New rules issued March 25 by the SEC removed a lot of the barriers for companies raising money and for non-accredited investors.

Companies will be able to raise up to $50 million. Non-accredited investors are welcome to invest, sometimes with limits — 10% of their net worth, say, or 10% of their net income.

Although Kickstarter has said that it won’t sell securities, other fundraising portals, such as Indiegogo, are looking into it.

And if all goes well, Paul, David, and I can start looking for the new opportunities in June of 2015.

———-

Bridget Sullivan Mermel helps clients throughout the country with her comprehensive fee-only financial planning firm based in Chicago. She’s the author of the upcoming book More Money, More Meaning. Both a certified public accountant and a certified financial planner, she specializes in helping clients lower their tax burden with tax-smart investing.

MONEY retirement planning

How to Make Sure Your Retirement Adviser Is On Your Team

two people the same bike
Claire Benoist

A new rule would require financial advisers to act solely in their clients' best interest when giving retirement advice. Until that happens, here's how you can protect yourself.

In a move aimed at improving consumer protection for investors, the U.S. Labor Department today proposed a rule that would reduce conflicts of interest for brokers who advise on retirement accounts.

The proposed rule would require brokers to act solely in their clients’ best interests when giving advice or selling products related to retirement plans, including 401(k)s or IRAs.

Conflicted advice has been a longstanding problem for anyone nearing retirement—a parade of financial advisers will line up to help you roll over your 401(k) into an individual retirement account. And all too often, the guidance you get may improve your adviser’s returns more than yours.

A report issued in February by the Council of Economic Advisers found that conflicted financial advice costs retirement investors an estimated $17 billion a year. That’s why President Obama announced his support for the proposal back in February.

The new rule would require brokers to follow what is known as a fiduciary standard, which already applies to registered investment advisers. In contrast to RIAs, stockbrokers—who may go by “wealth manager” or some other title—follow a less stringent “suitability” standard, which lets them sell investments that are appropriate for you but may not be the best choice.

Many brokers do well by their customers, but some don’t. “A broker might recommend a high-cost, actively managed fund that pays him higher commissions, when a comparable lower-cost fund would be better for the investor,” says Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America.

During the next 75 days, the rule will be open to public comments. After that, the Labor Department is expected to hold a hearing and receive more comments. After that, the rule could be revised further. And it’s not clear when a final rule would go into effect—perhaps not before Obama leaves office.

An earlier Labor Department measure was derailed in 2011 by Wall Street lobbyists, who argued it would drive out advisers who work with small accounts. The new measure carves out exceptions for brokers who simply take orders for transactions. It also permits brokers to work with fiduciaries who understand the nature of their sales role.

Securities and Exchange Commission chairwoman Mary Jo White has also announced support for a fiduciary standard that would protect more individual investors beyond just those seeking help with retirement accounts. And the New York City Comptroller recently proposed a state law that would require brokers to tell clients that they are not fiduciaries.

Until those measures take effect—and even if they do—protect your retirement portfolio by following these guidelines:

Find out if you come first. Ask your adviser or prospective adviser if she is a fiduciary. A yes doesn’t guarantee ethical behavior, but it’s a good starting point, says Roper.

Then ask how the adviser will be paid. Many pros who don’t receive commissions charge a percentage of assets, typically 1%. Some advisers, however, are fiduciaries in certain situations but not all. So ask if the adviser is compensated in any other way for selling products or services. “You should understand what the total costs of the advice will be,” says Fred Reish, a benefits attorney with Drinker Biddle.

Many RIAs work with affluent clients—say, those investing at least $500,000—since larger portfolios generate larger fees. That’s one reason other investors end up with brokers, who are often paid by commission. Have a smaller portfolio? Find a planner who will charge by the hour at GarrettPlanning.com or findanadvisor.napfa.org (select “hourly financial planning services”). Your total cost might range from $500 for a basic plan to $2,500 or more for a comprehensive one.

Beware a troubled past. Any financial professional can say he puts his clients’ interests first, but his past actions might contradict that. To see whether a broker has run afoul of customers or regulators, inspect his record at brokercheck.finra.org. RIAs, who are regulated by the SEC and the states, must file a disclosure form called ADV Part 2, which details any disciplinary actions and conflicts of interest; you can look it up at adviserinfo.sec.gov.

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Favor a low-cost approach. A fiduciary outlook should be reflected in an adviser’s investment choices for you—and their expense. “Before making any recommendations, your adviser should first ask how your portfolio is currently invested,” says Mercer Bullard, a securities law professor at the University of Mississippi. Your 401(k) may have low fees and good investment options, so a rollover might be a bad idea.

If the adviser is quick to suggest costly, complex investments such as variable annuities, move on. “Most investors are best off in low-cost funds,” says Bullard. And with so much at stake, you want an adviser who’s more concerned with your costs than his profits.

Read Next: Even a “Fiduciary” Financial Adviser Can Rip You Off If You Don’t Know These 3 Things

MONEY Financial Planning

Online Financial Planning Is More Popular Than You Think

piggy bank connected to computer mouse
Jan Stromme—Getty Images

Who needs to meet a financial adviser face-to-face? Not millennials and Gen Xers, who are often happier Skyping.

Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m a virtual financial planner.

If this sounds like a support group meeting, sometimes I feel like it should be. When I tell other financial planners that I work with clients across the country, they say, “But clients always value the face-to-face meetings that my firms provides.” So I ask them, “What is the average age of those clients?” The answer is usually in the 60s.

I started my own financial planning firm last year because I wanted to focus on clients under 50, in a way that lets me deliver advice without selling financial products. That doesn’t sound too complicated, does it? One of the ways I do this is by offering my services to people not in my immediate location. We either have a phone call while using screen-sharing software like JoinMe, or we use Skype or Google Hangouts to conduct meetings.

Since I’ve been in the industry for 10 years and always previously met with clients in person, I was a little apprehensive about the idea of not meeting clients face-to-face.

You know what? They don’t care. At all.

The clients I work with are well-educated, busy Gen X and Gen Y professionals. They use technology on a daily basis for work and personal reasons. The married couples I work with are usually both working in high-intensity jobs while juggling the demands of a family. Taking time out of their day to drive to a financial planner’s office, have an hour-long meeting, and drive back to their own workspace would easily eat up two to three hours of valuable time.

When we have a call or virtual meeting, we have a set agenda, the appointment is on their work calendar, and we are able to accomplish everything in 30 to 45 minutes. When we do this, my clients don’t need to spend a bunch of time away from the office, get a babysitter, or drive around town.

Another advantage to my clients (and me!) is that I am able to keep my financial planning prices down. Because I don’t keep an office in an expensive part of town, my overhead costs are lower. I can pass that savings along to my clients. I also have a lot of flexibility to conduct business even when I’m out of town for a conference.

What does a planner need in order to work with clients virtually?

  • A phone, and preferably a phone number that isn’t tied to a particular office space.
  • Comfort with screen-sharing tools.
  • Enough organizational skills to have the topic decided on beforehand — and enough flexibility to be able to answer other questions as they arise.
  • Financial planning software that clients can access online, or a secure client vault for sharing documents back and forth.

That’s it!

Clients that fit best in a virtual relationship are those that are comfortable with technology, somewhat self-sufficient, and aware of why this setup benefits them.

I’ve found that members of Gen X and Gen Y actually like working with a financial planner virtually because they are already comfortable with technology, they’re used to communicating this way, and they like the time-saving convenience. As an added benefit, those clients get to choose an adviser because the adviser specializes in their specific situation, not because the adviser happens to live near them.

———-

Katie Brewer, CFP, is the president of Your Richest Life, where she works virtually with Gen X and Gen Y professionals, helping them create and stick to a financial roadmap to live their richest life. Katie is a fee-only planner, a founding member of the XY Planning Network, and a member of the Financial Planning Association. She is also proud to be a Fightin’ Texas Aggie.

MONEY 401k plans

The Secrets to Making a $1 Million Retirement Stash Last

door opening with Franklin $100 staring through the crack
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2)

More and more Americans are on target to save seven figures. The next challenge is managing that money once you reach retirement.

More than three decades after the creation of the 401(k), this workplace plan has become the No. 1 way for Americans to save for retirement. And save they have. The average plan balance has hit a record high, and the number of million-dollar-plus 401(k)s has more than doubled since 2012.

In the first part of this four-part series, we laid out what you need to do to build a $1 million 401(k) plan. We also shared lessons from 401(k) millionaires in the making. In this second installment, you’ll learn how to manage that enviable nest egg once you hit retirement.

Dial Back On Stocks

A bear market at the start of retirement could put a permanent dent in your income. Retiring with a 55% stock/45% bond portfolio in 2000, at the start of a bear market, meant reducing your withdrawals by 25% just to maintain your odds of not running out of money, according to research by T. Rowe Price.

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That’s why financial adviser Rick Ferri, head of Portfolio Solutions, recommends shifting to a 30% stock and 70% bond portfolio at the outset of retirement. As the graphic below shows, that mix would have fallen far less during the 2007–09 bear market, while giving up just a little potential return. “The 30/70 allocation is the center of gravity between risk and return—it avoids big losses while still providing growth,” Ferri says.

Financial adviser Michael Kitces and American College professor of retirement income Wade Pfau go one step further. They suggest starting with a similar 30% stock/70% bond allocation and then gradually increasing your stock holdings. “This approach creates more sustainable income in retirement,” says Pfau.

That said, if you have a pension or other guaranteed source of income, or feel confident you can manage a market plunge, you may do fine with a larger stake in stocks.

Know When to Say Goodbye

You’re at the finish line with a seven-figure 401(k). Now you need to turn that lump sum into a lasting income, something that even dedicated do-it-yourselfers may want help with. When it comes to that kind of advice, your workplace plan may not be up to the task.

In fact, most retirees eventually roll over 401(k) money into an IRA—a 2013 report from the General Accountability Office found that 50% of savings from participants 60 and older remained in employer plans one year after leaving, but only 20% was there five years later.

Here’s how to do it:

Give your plan a shot. Even if your first instinct is to roll over your 401(k), you may find compelling reasons to leave your money where it is, such as low costs (no more than 0.5% of assets) and advice. “It can often make sense to stay with your 401(k) if it has good, low-fee options,” says Jim Ludwick, a financial adviser in Odenton, Md.

More than a third of 401(k)s have automatic withdrawal options, according to Aon Hewitt. The plan might transfer an amount you specify to your bank every month. A smaller percentage offer financial advice or other retirement income services. (For a managed account, you might pay 0.4% to 1% of your balance.) Especially if your finances aren’t complex, there’s no reason to rush for the exit.

Leave for something better. With an IRA, you have a wider array of investment choices, more options for getting advice, and perhaps lower fees. Plus, consolidating accounts in one place will make it easier to monitor your money.

But be cautious with your rollover, since many in the financial services industry are peddling costly investments, such as variable annuities or other insurance products, to new retirees. “Everyone and their uncle will want your IRA rollover,” says Brooklyn financial adviser Tom Fredrickson. You will most likely do best with a diversified portfolio at a low-fee brokerage or fund group. What’s more, new online services are making advice more affordable than ever.

Go Slow to Make It Last

A $1 million nest egg sounds like a lot of money—and it is. If you have stashed $1 million in your 401(k), you have amassed five times more than the average 60-year-old who has saved for 20 years.

But being a millionaire is no guarantee that you can live large in retirement. “These days the notion of a millionaire is actually kind of quaint,” says Fredrickson.

Why $1 million isn’t what it once was. Using a standard 4% withdrawal rate, your $1 million portfolio will give you an income of just $40,000 in your first year of retirement. (In following years you can adjust that for inflation.) Assuming you also receive $27,000 annually from Social Security (a typical amount for an upper-middle-class couple), you’ll end up with a total retirement income of $67,000.

In many areas of the country, you can live quite comfortably on that. But it may be a lot less than your pre-retirement salary. And as the graphic below shows, taking out more severely cuts your chances of seeing that $1 million last.

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What your real goal should be. To avoid a sharp decline in your standard of living, focus on hitting the right multiple of your pre-retirement income. A useful rule of thumb is to put away 12 times your salary by the time you stop working. Check your progress with an online tool, such as the retirement income calculator at T. Rowe Price.

Why high earners need to aim higher. Anyone earning more will need to save even more, since Social Security will make up less of your income, says Wharton finance professor Richard Marston. A couple earning $200,000 should put away 15.5 times salary. At that level, $3 million is the new $1 million.

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