Close Close

Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Advisor ethics: 4 things you supposedly aren't telling your clients

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

In her article, “8 things your financial planner won’t tell you,” MSN finance columnist Liz Pulliam Weston warns readers that some financial professionals have secrets and do not divulge all pertinent information to their clients. Read through the first four to see if there is anything that may be an ethical issue for you and if there is anything you need to be more transparent about.

1. You don’t have the qualifications. Pulliam Weston says, “Of the estimated 250,000 people calling themselves financial planners, only about 56,500 have earned the Certified Financial Planner mark.” She notes that there are fewer still ChFCs and PFSs.

She also warns readers that it’s not hard to masquerade as a financial planner and recommends clients check designation status by visiting the websites of the CFP Board of Standards, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Personal Financial Planning Center and the Society of Financial Services Professionals.

2. You have no obligation to put clients’ interests ahead of yours. You’ve taken oath, but do you take it serious? Pulliam Weston says that while planners do have to comply with government regulation, they are only obligated to not sell something totally unsuitable; not to ensure they create the best financial plan for clients.

She recommends clients ask for a copy of their advisor’s code of ethics, in order to be on the same page in terms of what standards the advisor is expected to live up to. We say, be first to mention your code of ethics, and talk with clients about the importance of not just suitability, but of finding the best possible solution available for them.

3. You aren’t being paid the way your client thinks. Pulliam Weston says that even though “commission” became a dirty word in the 90s, non-commissioned financial planners are still hard to find. There are less than 800 NAPFA members and she says that “ most financial advisers still get some or most of their income from commissions, according to [the] FPA. Many finesse the situation by calling themselves ‘fee-based’ planners, or by simply avoiding the issue of how they get compensated.”

While Pulliam Weston acknowledges that commissions aren’t inherently bad, she says they do create a conflict of interest. She says any planner should volunteer information about how they get paid, and if they don’t, clients should ask and also do their own research.

4. I’m looking at only one small portion of your overall finances. Pulliam Weston says that the only way to give well-rounded, customized advice is to look at every aspect of their clients’ financial situations, from budgeting to estate planning. “Many of those calling themselves financial planners focus on one narrow aspect of a client’s monetary condition — usually the area that corresponds with whatever financial training they’ve received,” she says.

Pulliam Weston tells readers that if their current advisor has a too-narrow focus to look for “a real financial planner who can evaluate your entire financial picture.”