How often I have taken for granted the notion that advisors are altruistic, seeking only to help clients achieve their dreams, and that generating income is secondary to the needs of the client. Then I encounter a prospective client who has been “pitched” what I would consider to be a “bill of goods.” “Put all your money into this annuity”, the salesman says. “See, there are guarantees so you can’t lose!” they declare. Kind of like the old snake oil salesman of the wild-wild west. Guarantees, sure, but at what cost? For the record, I’m not totally against annuities, but I do believe they are frequently sold in situations where they’re not appropriate.

Then there’s the capacity issue. How many clients can one advisor properly serve? This word “capacity” is akin to blasphemy in many large organizations today. Upper management is more concerned with revenue production and satisfying shareholders than with maintaining quality service. This pressure to produce is then transferred to the advisor and they end up like the little hamster on the wheel, wondering when they can get off. I believe there is an important trend in the marketplace today. I suspect the number of clients is growing much faster than the number of advisors needed to advise them. If there were enough advisors, it would be a rarity to hear a client say, “I can’t ever seem to reach my advisor. He’s always too busy.”

There is also a competence issue. You can learn all you want from a book or some other instructional manual, but until you live through the practical experience, you will never fully understand what it really means to manage someone’s life savings or advise them on non-investment related issues.

These are just a few of the items that RIAs can use to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. If you can look yourself in the mirror and truly say, “The most important thing I can do is help my client,” then you are one of the good guys. If you are more interested in making money than helping clients, then I’d love to meet your clients.

As long as the product-pushing mentality exists, and the shareholder is placed ahead of the client, then there lies a tremendous opportunity to do good by those advisors who will truly act in the clients’ best interests.