Once again we see the market throwing a temper tantrum. On the way up it was tempting to handle your investments on your own. Now with the horizon less clear and a modest correction in the books as I write, you wonder if professional help might be worth the extra expense.
Those most knowledgeable about money resist the advice of commissioned (or fee-based) professionals. As everyone know, fees have serious consequences over long periods of time. The lower the fees the more you’ll have 10 years down the road.
But when the market gets schizophrenic confidence in one’s abilities declines. Worse, you can make serious mistakes well in excess of what you would pay a financial professional.
The stereotypical financial planner or investment adviser is history. Commission based compensation still exists but on a much more limited scale as fee-based planning has taken over, hitching the client’s performance to the adviser’s income. Annual fees typically run around 1% of assets per year. While this fee is lower than many mutual fund expense ratios from decades ago, 1% annually starts to add up. And remember, you not only lose the 1% fee, but all the future gains that 1% would have earned.
Readers of this blog generally forgo advisers since they are well versed in the details of money management. Some readers apologize when they call me for a consulting session as they pay investment management fees to an adviser. It doesn’t bother me if you use an adviser because there are good reasons to hire an adviser which we’ll cover shortly.
Normally people in the FI (financial independence) community would want to pass on an article suggesting you might benefit from a financial adviser. This should be the exception. After careful consideration I decided to share 3 reasons a financial adviser could be a good idea for you.
Actually, I personally believe there is only one true duty of a financial professional. Don’t cheat and skip ahead. There are other minor duties a financial planner should provide should you decide to hire one.
Before we begin I want to share why I’m writing this post. This blog has a presence on several social media platforms. I also follow several groups and pages in the genre on Facebook. Recently a few people confessed they were willing to sell because the pain was too great since they lost maybe 10% or so of their portfolio value from the market top a few months back.
This confused me since these same people exuded tremendous confidence in their personal investing habits without the help of a professional. How could a run-of-the-mill correction have people screaming? How would they react in a real down market? A bear market?
Further digging showed many were investing in individual stocks such as Apple, which is down is bit more than the broad market averages.
Of course selling after the decline is in full swing is rarely a good idea. The time to sell is when the market is up, not after it drops 10% – 25%.
People comfortable spending less than they earn and investing the difference consistently do fine when the market is climbing. But when the ride gets bumpy or a bear market growls loud, these same people consider making the largest mistake of their financial life: selling at a market low.
I see this whip-sawing with clients all the time. It breaks my heart to see a client bust her tail to build a sizable nest egg only to lose money in one impetuous panic trade.
And that is where professional help comes in. While fees are always a concern since we know it hurts long-term performance, we need to weight the costs against real world results.
So here are the 3 things a financial planner or investment adviser must do to earn your business:
3. Asset Allocation
Index funds get all the press, but index funds are not the answer to every problem. (Have halitosis? A healthy dose of a Vanguard index fund will clear that right up! If only.)
Index funds are an important part of almost every financial plan. A financial professional should help you (or keep looking until you find one who does) determine how much should be in bonds, equities and cash. (If the adviser recommends Bitcoin, commodities, options, or other esoteric investments, especially if commission based, run like the wind while you still have a chance. And hold your wallet tight as you run!)
My personal portfolio has very few bonds. I certainly don’t follow the traditional investment philosophy of subtracting your age from 100 and having that much in bonds, or some such advice. (Yeah, I know I mangled that. The point is I don’t follow traditional investing advice.)
This brings up an interesting point. Your portfolio will look different from mine even if we are exactly the same age, in the same health, and have the same amount of money! The reason is that your personality will be different from mine. I’m willing to ride out any storm (for real!) while you might lose sleep at night if your investment/s decline temporarily.
When the market drops I start licking my chops. Where some people get scared and want to sell to protect from additional declines, I’m thinking about—and usually carrying out—purchases of more shares of companies or index funds.
Down markets are where the real money is made! The same applies to an individual stock if it is a quality company in most cases. (Apple is down hard recently and may drop more. I added a small amount to my portfolio and if the decline continues I’ll add more. Apple is a well run company with superb management. Temporary setbacks are part of investing and usually a time to invest in more shares of great companies and always a good time to buy broad-based index funds.)
A good adviser/planner will help you build a portfolio that allows you to sleep at night. For some it might be all cash, ie. bank deposits. (I actually have a neighbor who has it all in the bank and is happy as a clam in his retirement. He sleeps at night! No index fund gains would be worth the loss of security to him so it is the right thing to do. . . for him.)
The financial professional is more than a product pusher. The professional will know his client (that’s you) before making any recommendations. If an adviser prescribes before diagnosis, walk. Keep looking until you find an adviser who wants to work for you.
Investing isn’t about “more money”. Well, not completely, at least.
Investing needs a reason, a purpose, for it to be something you’ll be consistent with. Financial independence can be a solid goal since once you reach FI it opens your view to the horizon rather than working a job because you must. You may stay working in your current environment if you enjoy the work after reaching FI. There is nothing wrong with that! You might want to start a business or explore an idea. That is good, as well, as that is where all progress comes from.
Early retirement is an honorable goal. So is building a nest egg so you can work less and spend more time with family is a goal that motivates. Growing your portfolio to leave an adequate legacy is also an important consideration. So is growing your portfolio so you have the resources to fund philanthropic causes dear to your heart.
Goals are endless. An adviser or planner must be willing to listen to your goals, even help you formulate clear financial goals that will serve your needs.
Often times we don’t even know what we want. Just wanting more money isn’t reason enough! With only a vague, undefined goal, that SUV looks mighty tempting fast. Only goals you fully subscribe to will keep you on course and fill you with joy.
So, advisers and planners need to understand who you are and what makes you tick and work with you to discover your real financial life goals. It might sound like a detailed job; it is.
When I work with clients I practically give them a tax and financial proctology exam. You might be laughing now over my choice of words, but I’m dead serious. I need to know my client when dealing only with taxes. My advise is based on what I discover about my client and her goals. If it’s important with taxes; it’s tremendously more important when it involves your financial plan.
1. Panic and Greed
Two very important traits a financial adviser must have before you work with them is they must understand who you are and how it affects your asset allocation and a determination to help you reach your financial goals. But those traits are nothing compared to what I consider the only true value a financial professional has: dealing with your emotions: fear and greed.
It might seem like a total waste of money to pay a financial planner 1% of your portfolio annually when all the money is tucked safely into index funds. The whole low-cost benefit of index funds is partly removed with the advisory fee. So how can it be worth it to hire a professional for such a simple (and appropriate, I might add) investment portfolio?
On the surface the fees might seem like a waste until you remember how we entered this post: people freaking out on social media over a mild market correction.
If a 10% correction has you running for cover you made the wrong investment! Or at least you didn’t adequately prepare yourself for the reality of your investment choices.
And this isn’t a blame game either. Most people have no idea how risk adverse they are until the proverbial manure starts hitting the fan. Then Katy-bar the door, boys. It’s about to get real.
And for this reason a financial professional can earn her keep.
People who build a large portfolio do so by ignoring short-term market moves. It’s easier said than done. Most people need a steady hand to see them through. Enter the investment adviser/financial planner.
If the current market volatility concerns you then you either made the wrong investments for your personality or you need a professional to smooth the emotional peaks and valleys, maybe both.
The same applies to bull markets. If you’re tempted to use margin (borrowed money) when the market is hot you need a professional to talk you down.
My decades of experience makes it clear to me many people need professional help with their money. Everyone wants to go it alone because we all think we’re smarter than we really are, and as the market rises (as it usually does) it masks our deficiencies. Blue skies lull us into a false sense of security. Then the storm arises.
If you are considering a financial professional after reading this then I want you to do it right. Interview several financial professionals. If they aren’t interested in you, really want to know and understand you, move on. The adviser you hire (you’re paying them so you are hiring them so they darn well better do their job!) must take an interest in your goals. In fact, they should naturally gravitate toward questions bent to learn about you and what most motivates you.
Make it clear to any adviser you consider that you want a steady hand, not exotic investments. She must help you deal with the emotions in a down market so you don’t crush your financial dreams with impetuous trades; she must hone your desire to take a flyer when the world is getting rich in FAANG stocks.
A good adviser does those kinds of thing because they are responsible and looking out for you, her client. Anything less and you’re better off with the security of a bank.
A Parting Story
The mid and late 1980s were an incredible time to be invested. A long-time client with experience managing his own money added religiously to his portfolio. From 1982 to 1992 the market churned out an annual return well into the double digits. It was a good time to be invested in equity mutual funds.
During this decade my client invested in Fidelity’s Magellan Fund. During a good portion of this investment period the legendary Peter Lynch managed Magellan. Returns were in nose-bleed territory.
My client was a steady investing hand. An up market didn’t turn him greedy. He added funds steadily as he earned them.
Mild downturns were also okay for my client. But the 1987 stock market crash turned him into a sleep-deprived zombie. He couldn’t take the market volatility so he sold. At the bottom! Then the market recovered and blue skies returned so he moved back into Magellan.
Then in 1990 the market once again declined. Not nearly as bad as 1987, but enough to shake our good friend. As you may have guessed, he sold. A short while later when the market returned to new highs he felt safe enough to push all his money back into Magellan.
During this period the Magellan Fund was up an over 20% per year on average if you never sold. Our hero managed a measly 2% because he sold twice in decade out of fear, less than money market funds would have earned back then. Our hero went from mouth-watering investment returns to performing worse than money market funds over two stupid decisions.
Moral of the story: It only takes one or two stupid investing mistakes to sabotage your financial goals.
Now be honest: Do you need a financial professional to see you through the storm clouds?
Now for the bad news. If you do, they are as hard to find as a good under-priced stock.
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Saturday 29th of December 2018
Warren Buffett once said "Lethargy bordering on sloth remains the cornerstone of our investment style." I have made every effort to emulate this approach in my personal investments. I don't have my brokerage app on my phone, and I make it difficult to even login via computer (I have to open up a Veracrypt share, then a keepass database, both with long passwords) . I tend to stress when the market is dropping a lot (like recently), but by the time I think about selling, I reason that it is probably too late anyway. In 2008 and 09 I went several months where I would not look at brokerage statements, just filed them. Didn't want to know. But I stayed invested and kept all my existing auto-investments. And eventually things improved. Is not always easy, but I think it helps if you think it through beforehand, and don't panic.
Tuesday 25th of December 2018
There is no doubt that people can do their own financial planning. But too often they don't have the discipline to do it. A financial advisor can be a nice sounding board when it comes time to make an important financial decision.
Tuesday 18th of December 2018
Wow. The story about the person who lost all those gains from the Magellan Fund. Ugh! Heart wrenching! I'm not the greatest investor, but I'm also not the worst, but there are definitely times I've wondered when or if I'll need a financial planner. Thank you for detailing the specifics. For now, it looks like I'm okay managing my own money. I'll revisit this idea in a few years.
Oh, and I've seen some of those people posting their concerns about this minimal drop in stocks. They don't have the experience yet to know it's sale time! They'll (hopefully) learn.
The Money Commando
Friday 14th of December 2018
As a financial planner, I enjoy these types of articles. The reality is that most people DON'T need a financial planner, just like most people don't need an attorney or a neurosurgeon.
The people who really tend to benefit from a financial advisors are: business owners, very wealthy people, older people, people with no desire to manage their own money. The average person just needs to save more and invest in low-cost index funds. That simple advice will address most of their needs. As the complexity of your situation grows (you start acquiring more assets) there are more ways that you can use insurance, tax planning, estate planning, and other investments to maximize gains, minimize costs, and minimize taxes.
And if you're somebody who has an emotional reaction to the ups and downs of the market, then having somebody else who is one step removed from your money can be a life (and fortune) saver.
Thursday 13th of December 2018
I like financial advisers that can keep you invested and provide helpful advice. I just haven't found any, they all either only exist in the books they write and don't take clients - or they only exist in the client's mind. By the time you find a good one, they're retiring =)
Thursday 13th of December 2018
I only point out the type of adviser you need, Bob, not that it's easy finding them.
You are right, the good ones fill fast and don't have room for more while bad ones have plenty of room to fleece more.
I have a suggestion. Become your own adviser that holds you accountable. Not a perfect solution, but you can look hard in the mirror and tell it the way it is without letting emotions determine your investment strategy.