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Home > Business > Personal Finance

Confessions of a financial advisor

P V Subramanyam, | June 13, 2007 17:14 IST

Investors are increasingly aware of the value a financial advisor can provide. Unfortunately, not all planners are reliable. Some are thinly disguised investment sales people, while top credentials may hide unsavoury facts about others.

Since just about anybody can call themselves a 'financial advisor,' these quick tips can help dig out facts on the person you will be paying to handle your money.

1. I have no qualifications for this job

First, there are no educational, experience or ethical requirements to regulate planners. In India, most 'planners' are plain graduates. Some are CAs, MBAs or engineers.

Some may have appropriate education, like the CFA from the US. This degree is a comprehensive financial education and it may help if your planner has it. However, without the necessary experience, the degree alone may not help.

2. I have no obligation to put your interests ahead of my own

Most people who call themselves planners are really in the business of selling investments. So ask for, and read, a copy of any the code of ethics with which your planner is required to comply (usually as part of his professional designation).

For example, no regulator will hold it unethical / wrong for a sales professional to sell life insurance to a 55-year-old bachelor with his nephew as a nominee. You may think that he does not need life insurance, but the agent can quite legally assume that the nephew is dependent on him.

3. I'm not being paid the way you think

Most financial advisors get some or most of their income, from commissions. Many call themselves 'fee-based' planners.

Commissions aren't bad, per se. But they do create a conflict of interest. Your planner should volunteer information about how she gets paid. If you have to ask, you should at least get a straight answer.

4. I'm looking at only one small portion of your overall finances

A good planner looks at every aspect of the clients' financial situation, from budgets to estate plans. Many planners, however, focus on one narrow aspect of a client's monetary condition -- usually the area that corresponds with whatever financial training they have received.

If your advisor has a narrow focus, get a second opinion, or better yet, look for a real financial planner who can evaluate your entire financial picture.

5. The only products I understand are the ones I'm selling

When all you have is a hammer, the world looks like a nail. Advisors who lack training in comprehensive financial planning often know only what their companies tell them about the various investments they're told to sell.

An insurance agent, for example, might sing praises of variable annuities, while a stockbroker might push individual stocks or mutual funds, when the best use for your money might be increasing your emergency fund or paying down your mortgage.

The author is a financial domain trainer.

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