Do-nothing investment advisers have never been more vulnerable.
The financial upheaval caused by the pandemic highlights how much more there is to adviser-client relationships than just investments. There’s managing debt and loss of personal and business income, navigation of government benefits, estate planning, providing moral support and more.
You pay for services like this when you work with an adviser via fees and commissions. Clients who realize they’re not getting what they paid for will be on the move in the months ahead. An example is a 67-year-old reader who recently e-mailed to ask how to move his account.
“I have recently been looking into the fees that we have been paying over the years and am shocked at the amount of money we have contributed to someone else’s bank account,” he wrote. “Our investment adviser with a bank calls once a year, otherwise we never hear from him and there have been very little adjustments to our portfolio at all.”
This person asked: How easy is it to move a portfolio of mutual funds somewhere where it can be managed at no cost? Oh, it’s easy all right. Choose an online broker, set up an account and then download an account transfer form. Complete the form, get it to your new broker and the investments will be transferred electronically. Expect it to take weeks or maybe months. Firms have no reason to expedite the departure of revenue-generating client accounts.
There’s a hidden risk in taking over your own investments to save on fees, though. It’s imagining that because your adviser did nothing, that investing is a fairly simple process that you can do on your own and thereby save on fees.
Do-it-yourself investing at its simplest could consist of putting money into a balanced exchange-traded fund, which is a diversified portfolio in a single convenient package. But even this will be a stretch for some people. Buying individual ETFs takes the level of complication up a notch, and holding individual stocks and bonds is still harder.
Lots of investors do brilliantly as DIYers – they achieve their financial goals, save on fees and, deservedly, feel great about it. But some people aren’t cut out for DIY investing. You don’t want to find this out after leaving an adviser. The risk is that you a) leave your money sitting in cash and not earning anything, or b) you torch your portfolio with bad choices.
Don’t misunderstand – relationships with do-nothing advisers should be severed as soon as possible. But you have to be practical about your next destination: Here are three options:
- Another adviser: There are plenty of good ones who earn their fees with strong, helpful advice.
- A robo-adviser: Cost-effective portfolio management; if you need in-depth financial planning, engage a fee-for-service planner on the side for a flat or hourly fee.
- An online brokerage: The franchise was built on investors who dumped their advisers, but they’re not for everyone.
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