I reached out to my adviser about a large purchase and it changed his tune.

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Question: After retiring in 2009, I rolled everything over to a large financial services firm. Fast forward to 2023, I get a yearly call from my adviser about my accounts. I was never really satisfied with my earnings but after requesting $35K to purchase a pristine 2014 Jaguar, he just wasn’t as cordial anymore. I asked my adviser to provide me with documentation that shows my earnings as well as any fees I have been charged for services since I opened the account. I never had anything in writing about fees. He told me he would provide me with it but a few months have gone by and I still haven’t gotten anything from him. I don’t feel good about this anymore. What should I do?

Answer: You certainly have a right to know what you’re paying for financial advice. While it’s probably okay to give your current adviser a last chance in case your request was overlooked, it also may be time to consider another adviser. (You can use this free tool to get matched with a fiduciary financial adviser who may meet your needs.)

“I’m not an advocate of staying with any adviser who is unresponsive or unwilling to answer questions. The adviser is there to help you through the good times as well as the bad times and if he’s not responsive to your questions, I would look elsewhere,” says certified financial planner Joe Favorito at Landmark Wealth Management. 

Have an issue with your financial adviser or looking for a new one? Email [email protected].

Indeed, communication with your adviser is key. “It sounds like your current adviser thinks your money is his money and shouldn’t ever be withdrawn. You’re absolutely correct and well within your rights in asking for the details regarding the fees you’ve paid as well as after-fee performance of your portfolio. You should also be sure to ask them to show you comparable performance benchmarks that they hold themselves to,” says certified financial planner Bruce Primeau at Summit Wealth Advocates.

As for determining your fees, you can often tell what they are just by looking at your statement. “If your adviser works on an asset-based fee, then the fees are usually assessed quarterly or monthly and they would show as a line item on your statement. If the adviser is commission-based, commissions will show on the trade confirmations. You can always bypass the adviser and call the broker-dealer who serves as the custodian for the assets directly and they can give you a summary of any costs you’ve paid in commissions or fees,” says Favorito.

That said, not providing you with information about fees could be a serious ethical violation.“If your adviser is a CFP, they’re specifically obligated to have a duty of loyalty, a duty of care and a duty to follow client instructions. By failing to provide you with this information, they’re violating their explicit ethical responsibility and could possibly lose their designation,” says certified financial planner Jim Hemphill at TGS Financial

Indeed, failure to provide performance and fee information is a regulatory violation. “With all the delays, you’re probably better off filing a complaint with the company. The firm needs to track complaints so they will get escalated to the compliance team and I’d bet a dollar they will solve this problem very quickly,” says certified financial planner Robert Persichitte at Delagify. 

You should also consider contacting your adviser’s boss, which is probably his branch manager if he’s a broker at a big firm. “Explain what you asked for, when you asked and ask when you can expect the information you requested. Remember, you’re entitled to this information,” says Hemphill. 

“Another way to get an idea of the amount you’re being charged is to visit FINRA BrokerCheck where you can see the ADV-2A brochure where in the fees section, you can see the amount you’re being charged,” says certified financial planner Alonso Rodriguez Segarra at Advise Financial.

Get a second opinion

In the end, transparency is key when it comes to your financial investments and your relationship with your adviser. “If you feel uncomfortable with your current situation, it might be worth considering a new financial adviser who meets your needs and provides the level of service you expect,” says certified financial planner Ryan Haiss at Flynn Zito Capital Management. 

Pros say you might want to look into working with a fee-only adviser — a professional who is only paid by the client and doesn’t receive other income revenue from third parties versus a fee-based adviser, who may get commissions for pushing certain products. It’s also worth looking into CFPs specifically because they’re required to complete coursework, thousands of hours of work-related experience and pass exams to earn the designation. CFPs are also held to a fiduciary standard, meaning they’re required to put their client’s best interests ahead of their own, minimizing the potential for conflicts of interest.

In short: It’s probably a good idea to get a second opinion about your portfolio performance and the fees you’ve been paying. Many advisers will give you a free initial consultation.  To get a good sense of a potential adviser, MarketWatch Picks has compiled a helpful list of questions you can ask.

Have an issue with your financial adviser or looking for a new one? Email [email protected].


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