Monday, July 13, 2020
July 13, 2020

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Weston: Is your financial adviser really helping you?

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Stock market crashes don’t just test investors’ mettle. Abrupt downturns also can reveal what kind of financial adviser you have.

Some people will discover, to their horror, that they’ve been dealing with outright crooks. Ponzi schemes are among the cons that fall apart when markets do, as investors try to pull their money out and discover it’s gone.

More commonly, people learn that their advisers didn’t put the clients’ best interests first. The adviser may have recommended investments that were unsuitably risky or hard to sell, or failed to adequately diversify clients’ portfolios.

Even if you dodge the worst, your adviser may not deliver the value you expected. It’s reasonable to assume you’ll get some degree of hand-holding, reassurance and personal service when you choose a human adviser over less expensive options, such as a robo-adviser or investing on your own. The answers to the following questions could help you decide whether it’s time to look for an adviser willing to live up to those expectations.

HAVE YOU EVEN HEARD FROM YOUR ADVISER?

Demanding instant responses isn’t realistic at a time when advisers, like the rest of us, are grappling with pandemic-wrought changes. They may be working from home, struggling with unfamiliar technologies, trying to keep their pantry filled and home-schooling their kids. Family members may be ill or at risk. Plus, they may be busy responding to clients who are a lot more freaked out than you are, or at least more vocal about it.

Still, by now your adviser should have checked in with you — and mass communications such as email newsletters don’t count. If you’ve called or emailed, you should be getting responses.

“We return emails and calls within 24 hours,” says Catherine S. Gearig, a certified financial planner with LifePlan Financial Advisory Group in Rochester Hills, Michigan. “We’re reaching out to every client on our roster via telephone to see how they are doing and talking through their concerns.”

IS YOUR ADVISER LISTENING?

Let’s say you have heard from your adviser. Was it a pep talk, a lecture or a conversation? Good advisers remind clients of their goals, encourage them to stick with their strategy and reassure them that markets always bounce back eventually. But good advisers also ask plenty of questions and pay attention to the answers.

“This is the time for collaboration and listening to how you feel, how you see yourself being impacted by a recession, or even personal or medical health concerns you have,” says Pam Krueger, CEO of Wealthramp, an online service that connects consumers with vetted, independent fiduciary advisers. “It’s not about portfolios and investments and mutual funds all the time.”

IS YOUR ADVISER LEANING IN?

If you’ve lost your job, you may need to find health insurance, file for unemployment, evaluate a severance package and figure out how to make ends meet — all tasks that a good adviser should help you with, Krueger says. If you’re in or near retirement, you need to know how bear markets might affect your future spending and whether to tap other assets, such as home equity. Even if you’re decades away from retirement, you may want reassurance that your plan is still on track.

The stimulus package that Congress approved in late March, meanwhile, has a wide range of provisions to help individuals and businesses. Your adviser should be evaluating whether any could help you.

Even if you don’t have a pressing financial need, it might be a good time to do a Roth conversion, sell losing stocks to offset gains from winners, rebalance your investments or even speed up your retirement contributions. CFP Malcolm Ethridge, executive vice president of CIC Wealth in Rockville, Maryland, is encouraging his younger clients whose job prospects are good to boost their 401(k) and IRA contributions now.

“That way, you get those dollars in there while the market is selling at a discount and take full advantage of the buying opportunity,” Ethridge says.

Bad markets and trying economic times are an opportunity to see how seriously advisers take their responsibilities to their clients, says CFP Brett A. Koeppel, president of Eudaimonia Wealth in Buffalo, New York.

“Our character is often determined by how we show up at times of adversity,” Koeppel says. “Now is the time to lean into it, and step up for the families that count on us to do so.”

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