The federal regulation that was intended to protect retirement investors from dubious financial advice is in jeopardy. The April implementation of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) fiduciary rule that was six years in the making may be postponed.
The purpose of the rule is to require financial professionals to act in the best interest of their clients. That might seem like something that isn’t necessary to legislate, but brokers, insurance agents and others in the financial industry are routinely recommending investments that promote their employer’s financial bottom line and not their clients.
Regardless of what happens to the DOL’s fiduciary rule, you need to ask questions to boost the chances that a financial professional will always act in your best interest. Asking questions can also increase the chances that you’ll find an advisor who will be an excellent fit for your needs.
Here are 15 questions to ask:
1. Are you a fiduciary? In other words, are you required by regulation to put your clients’ interests ahead of those of your firm and its employees?
2. How do you charge for your services? Are you a fee-only advisor (only charging a fee as a percentage of assets under management) – that’s almost always preferable? Or are you compensated by commissions or a combination of fees and commissions (fee-based)?
3. In addition to what I pay you, what other costs will I have to absorb?
4. If you aren’t a fee-only advisor, are you eligible for bonuses for your work? How can you earn them?
5. Does your company offer contests for selling investment products?
6. Do you specialize in certain types of clients?
7. How do you develop your investment recommendations?
8. How would you describe your investment philosophy?
9. Will you be creating an investment policy statement (IPS) for me? (An IPS contains an investor’s financial goals, as well as the plan on how to reach them. The document is essential for long-term investors.)
10. What is the average portfolio size that you handle?
11. What specific services do you provide?
12. How often will we have meetings?
13. What custodians, broker dealers, and mutual fund providers such as Vanguard, Schwab and Fidelity, do you use in your practice?
14. Have you ever been disciplined for illegal or unethical behavior?
15. Can you give me three client references?