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5 costly secrets financial advisers may keep from you (but you definitely should know about)


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They say what you don’t know can’t hurt you, but when it comes to your finances — that’s not exactly true. So we asked experts some of the things that some financial advisers may not tell their clients, but that clients should know about. (You can use this tool to get matched with a planner who meets your needs.)

1. ‘I use the same investments within most client portfolios.’

Plenty of advisers, of course, pick investments tailored to each specific client, but some don’t. “They might just change the allocation to each investment depending on different client situations, goals, risk tolerance and time horizon,” says Tiffany Lam-Balfour, investing spokesperson at NerdWallet. This isn’t always beneficial to the client, nor does it take into account the individual’s interests or goals. To combat that, It’s key to have open communication with your adviser — so you can ask them questions pertaining to your portfolio. (The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors did not respond to a request for comment on the items in this story.)

2. ‘You can negotiate your fee schedule.’

You might be able to pay less than you currently are, as many times, adviser’s fees are negotiable. But you won’t always know that. “Make sure your adviser is transparent about how they are compensated. Advisers should be compensated for their expertise and guidance, it shouldn’t be something they aren’t willing to disclose,” says Amy Richardson, certified financial planner with Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium. And Grace Yung, certified financial planner at Midtown Financial Group says, “Clients should have open discussions with prospective financial advisers and ask them about their process and how they’re compensated. Many can be hired on an hourly basis or be compensated based on assets under management and there are some who offer a la carte services and one way consumers can save on consulting cost is by choosing only the services they need.”

3. ‘You may be eligible for a discount.’

“How financial advisers charge varies depending on the individual and their firm,” says Lam-Balfour. Sometimes advisers have tiered pricing where the more assets you have under their management, the lower the percentage they charge you — but if your assets grew to that level while you were their client, they may not be calling you up to discuss that discount. Others may offer discounts if you bundle services, but that doesn’t mean they will always tell you that. “It can help to have an open and detailed discussion about your adviser’s fees and ask for ways to reduce your costs,” she recommends. (Use this tool to get matched with a planner who meets your needs.)

4. ‘Recommending certain products to you means I get paid more.’ 

Commission-based investment advisers are paid when a client buys or sells an investment, and the more they sell, the more commission they make. Some funds or products pay a higher commission rate than others, which means advisers might be recommending something inferior over something that’s actually better suited toward the client. “The products sold can impact the adviser’s bottom line, whether an adviser is selling a mutual fund, life insurance, annuity, CD or bond, many advisers receive commissions that differ from product to product which can present a conflict of interest,” says Lam-Balfour.

5. ‘I’m only sort-of working in your best interest.’

A suitability standard requires that investments be acceptable to an investor’s circumstances, meaning a broker can recommend a product that costs more and generates a higher commission than a similar, lower-priced investment, whereas a fiduciary standard requires advisers put their client’s interests ahead of their own. Lam-Balfour says, “A financial adviser that is registered as an investment adviser is subject to the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 which requires that they register with the SEC and conform to regulations designed to protect investors. Investment advisers are expected to put the interest of the client before their own, which is the fiduciary standard.” A financial adviser that is a broker or works for a broker-dealer is held to a suitability standard set by FINRA, meaning the transaction or recommendation should be suitable for the client. “What’s suitable means something that is beneficial to the client but isn’t quite as strict as what’s in the best interest of the client,” says Lam-Balfour.

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