Your financial advisor is supposed to help you build wealth for a secure future. Unfortunately, not all professionals in the field are created equal. Some may not be entirely competent while others could be downright shady. Here are seven indications that it's time to find a new financial partner.
Your advisor is playing hard to get. Open communication with a financial advisor is key. If an advisor stops returning calls or severely restricts a client's ability to set up meetings, it may be time to look elsewhere for guidance. "If you had a boyfriend who suddenly won't return calls, you wouldn't be happy," says Leslie Roberts, an investment advisor at Stillwater Financial Group with offices in Boca Raton, Florida, and Plymouth, Pennsylvania. "It's no different in this relationship."
It's a "do-as-I-say" relationship. Carla Dearing, CEO of online investment service SUM180, says people should be wary of any financial advisor who strikes an authoritative tone. A good advisor should work with their clients rather than dictating how money is to be invested. "If your questions are in any way being dismissed, that's a sign," Dearing says.
Your advisor doesn't make sense. If your advisor can't clearly explain his or her investment strategy, that's another indication it may be time to start shopping for a new finance partner. "If they can't explain it, that's a big red flag," says Kimberly Foss, president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, California. In some cases, it could be that the advisor doesn't understand the strategy himself, but it also could be something more sinister.
Foss relates the story of an elderly woman who had reservations about her advisor. "Her account would go down, and he would dance around it," she says. It ended up the advisor had not only invested the woman's money inappropriately, but also had numerous complaints and a civil suit filed against him by other clients.
Services are free. Some advisors don't charge their clients directly, and that could be a sign a person's recommendations are influenced by product commissions rather than a client's best interests. "Anytime someone says they do finances for free, gimme a break," Roberts says. If the client isn't paying, that means an advisor is getting income elsewhere. People should understand who is paying that income and how it affects what investment options are presented to them. According to Dearing, knowing this information is crucial when it comes to "being advised" rather than "being sold." She says, "It is really, really important to separate the advice from the product."
Your advisor is making guarantees. Nothing is a sure thing in investments, and anyone who tells you otherwise shouldn't be your advisor. Even real estate which almost always appreciates can tumble in value, as was seen in the last recession. "Anytime someone uses the words 'I guarantee,' that's a huge, huge flag," Roberts says.
Conversations are awkward or condescending. Clients should feel completely comfortable laying all their financial cards on a table. If an advisor makes a client feel inferior or responds in a condescending manner -- using what Roberts calls "investment-ese" -- then it may be time for a change. Dearing suggests that rather than being the "guy in the suit," a good advisor should act like the "friend across the table with a glass of wine."
Your advisor has a checkered past. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority offers a simple way to learn more about an advisor's background. BrokerCheck is a free service that shows whether a professional is registered, their past experience and any client complaints, among other things. It may be understandable for a long-time advisor to have one or two complaints, but you should think twice about doing business with anyone who has a pattern of issues in a particular area.
How to make a switch. If you're ready to move to a new advisor, the process doesn't have to be difficult. "If you find someone new, they'll do the dirty work for you," Roberts says. In other words, your new advisor will draw up the necessary paperwork and transfer your accounts.
Foss says her firm has a letter they write for clients to personalize as they see fit. It thanks the previous advisor while stating that the client has decided to go in a new direction for their asset management. "We try to make it as painless as possible, but also be respectful," she says.
Proper management of investments is crucial to having enough money for college costs, retirement and other life goals. If your advisor isn't inspiring confidence, don't be afraid to tell him or her goodbye.