The securities industry is set up to make it seem as if all financial advisors who are selling investment products are super successful, finance majors, vice presidents, etc. All these things are done intentionally so that you’ll trust them and think that they are investment gurus who will be great with your money. The reality is that’s not always the case. That’s just the illusion of the industry. Therefore, it’s important to ask the right questions to make sure that you’re getting the right professional. The reality is the brokerage industry, just like any other industry, has good financial advisors and bad financial advisors. Here are some tips on how to make sure you’re getting a good one.
(1) FINRA BrokerCheck
The first tool that you should be using to vet your Financial advisor Singapore is something called FINRA BrokerCheck. BrokerCheck it is a publicly available tool. You can go to FINRA.org and at the top right-hand corner of that website there’s something called the BrokerCheck. You can literally type in a person’s name, hit enter and you’re going to get what’s called the BrokerCheck report which will detail all the information that you need when you’re vetting your financial advisor.
BrokerCheck will be able to tell you how the advisor did on their licensing exams, where they have been employed, where they went to school, if they’ve ever been charged with anything criminally. Have they ever declared bankruptcy? Have they ever been sued by a client? Have they ever been fired by their brokerage firm? These are all the things that would be absolutely critical before establishing a relationship with somebody who’s going to manage your entire life savings.
During client intake the first thing we do is look up their BrokerCheck report. We start rattling off all this information to the potential client about their advisor and they are often amazed. We aren’t magicians and I don’t know every financial advisor. Literally all we are doing is pulling this publicly available information and looking at the report. And so many times we are telling a potential client that their advisor has been sued a bunch of times already and the investor had no idea.
Obviously that would have been critical information to know at the beginning when they were deciding whether to work with that person. If they had pulled that report, if they knew for example that the person they were considering had already been sued 26 times by former clients, they would never go with that person. So obviously, the first thing that you should do, pull that report.
(2) Questions to Ask
The first good question to ask a potential broker would be “How are you compensated?” Not every financial advisor is compensated the same way. Some of them are compensated on a commission basis, which is per transaction. Every time they make a recommendation for you and you agree, they get paid. Some of them are being paid a percentage of assets under management. If you have a million-dollar portfolio and they make 1%, they are going to make $10,000 a year.
You can determine what you are looking for based on what kind of investor you are. If you’re a buy-and-hold investor, maybe a commission model makes sense for you because maybe you’re only doing two or three trades a year. If you’re trading a lot and you’re having a very active relationship with your advisor maybe the assets under management model makes more sense. But ask the question first and foremost so that you know and it’s not ambiguous.
The second question to ask is “does the financial advisor have a fiduciary duty to you.” Ask them that exact question because the brokerage industry will take the position that they don’t. Their obligation to you from their perspective is to make an investment recommendation that’s suitable. That’s a much lower bar because sometimes an investment could be suitable for you but not necessarily in your best interests. So just ask your financial advisor, “Do you consider yourself to have a fiduciary duty to me?” Let’s figure this out at the beginning of the relationship to make sure you know where you stand.
Another question you should ask is, “Who are you registered with?” A lot of financial advisors out there are sort of independent and they’ve got a “doing business as” business, wherever their offices are, but they are registered to sell securities through a larger brokerage firm. Find out who that is. Do some research to make sure that you’re getting involved with a brokerage firm that has the types of supervision and compliance that you would expect.
There are two types of brokerage firms. There is the Morgan Stanley model where they have a hub of brokers in a major city. Maybe 30-40 brokers in one office. There are compliance people, there are supervisors, there are operations people – all in the same localized office. In my experience you see less problems in that type of situation because all the supervisory people are right there.
On the flipside, there is the independent model – it’s an advisor in an office someplace and their compliance is in Kansas City or Minneapolis or St. Louis or wherever. The supervisor comes to the office once a year and audits the books and reviews the activities of the advisor for the prior year. These visits are usually announced well in advance. Obviously the supervision in that context is very different. And that is the type of firm where we see more problems.
You want to make sure you’re getting involved with the right firm. That the firm is overseeing your financial advisor, protecting you, making sure that if they are doing something wrong, they will catch it before it’s detrimental to your accounts.