How to Choose a Financial Adviser as New Department of Labor Rule Kicks In

With new regulations in place, it's the perfect time to learn how to choose a financial adviser

As a new fiduciary rule on financial advice becomes law this month across the U.S., many Americans are leery of trusting advisers’ input on how their money is handled.

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Moreover, those folks often are uninformed that financial advisers perhaps are not always working in their best interests.

And, consumers may need to be better educated on how to collaborate with advisers to help preserve and grow their nest egg for retirement.

Those were some of the findings in a new survey paid for by Personal Capital. The Silicon Valley-based digital wealth management firm claims it has over 90 advisers who are fiduciaries and serve 1.4 million customers. The findings are based on an online survey done by Harris Poll in March 2017 of more than 2,100 U.S. adults.

Simultaneously, U.S. Labor Department Secretary Alexander Acosta said last month that his office will partially apply its fiduciary rule on June 9. The rule requires all financial advisers and brokers to act in “the best interests” of clients on their retirement accounts, including IRA rollovers and other retirement-eligible funds. A Morningstar analyst has estimated that the DOL fiduciary could affect some $3 trillion in client assets. i

Survey Shows Most Mistaken About Financial Advisers


With the rule’s enactment, the survey results are intriguing. The biggest findings of the 2017 Personal Capital Financial Trust Report:

  • Some 46% of Americans mistakenly believe all financial advisers are required by law to always act in their clients’ best interest. Thirty-one percent are not sure.
  • Seventy percent of those surveyed report recent events in the financial industry have made them question the trustworthiness of financial professionals. Men are less forgiving than women (74% vs. 67%).
  • Twenty-one percent of U.S. investors—those who have at least one investment account—know they pay investment fees but are unaware of how much they pay. Personal Capital reported 32% of Americans believe higher fees for investment accounts results in higher returns, though studies show otherwise.
  • Some 28% of American investors say they don’t pay attention to fees when selecting investment accounts, a number that rises to 47% for investors ages 18-34 (millennials).

“Americans count on financial advisers to help them manage their money and achieve their goals, whether that’s sending their kids to college or achieving a comfortable retirement,” Bill Harris, founder and chairman of Personal Capital, stated in a press release. “Achieving these critical life goals is a roll of the dice if the adviser is not a fiduciary. The financial well-being and best interest of the customer should be the top priority, and a legal obligation, for any firm managing consumers’ money.”

The Chicago-based National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, (NAPFA), the nation’s largest professional group of fee-only financial planners with over 3,000 practitioners, offered feedback on the Personal Capital report.

In a statement, NAPFA said the report reflects the public’s mistrust of financial advisers who do not work in the best interest of their clients. It also reveals a lack of understanding among consumers who believe that all financial advisers are already working as fiduciaries, putting the interests of their clients ahead of their own.

For these and other reasons, NAPFA added that it has fully supported—and continues to support—the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule. That the new rule will ensure that all financial advisers providing advice on retirement accounts are held to a higher standard of care than ever before.

“To protect their retirement savings, it’s important for consumers to look for a professional subject to a fiduciary standard, to ask the right questions, and to understand how their adviser is compensated,” said Geoffrey Brown, CEO of NAPFA.

Best Practices for Selecting a Financial Adviser

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– Check if the financial adviser is a certified financial planner (CFP) or a registered investment adviser (RIA). Ask how those designations help them service clients better or clearly explain how they differentiate them from planners without those qualifications.

– Find out who the person is regulated and licensed by. Inquire about what classes they are required to regularly take and what areas of financial planning they cover.

-Ask the adviser how they make money. A person who makes money from commissions instead of a flat, hourly fee might be inclined to advise you from a specific point of view.

-Find out what area your planner specializes in. For instance, it might not make sense to work with someone specializes in tax planning if you are seeking advice on how to build a solid portfolio for retirement purposes.

-Conduct due diligence on how long they have worked in the business. For example, a planner who has dealt with bullish and bearish stock market activity most likely can offer better investment guidance than a planner fresh out of college.

-Find out what standards or codes of ethics the financial planner complies with. Be on the lookout for words such as “fiduciary” to help ensure the planner has your best interest at stake.

-Consider using a number of free, easy-to-use online tools and apps such as Personal Capital and Mint that can help track your investments in one place and see exactly what hidden fees are costing you.

-Do your homework. Check out websites like the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors to learn more about how the business, industry and its professionals work. For instance, this link offers some helpful information.