It's debatable if the fiduciary standard is 'higher' than suitability. But the better question might be, who's holding the bar?
By Cyril Tuohy
It seems as if cartoonist Scott Adams, the creator of the mild-mannered “Dilbert” character, has engendered quite a stir about financial advisors.
In a recent blog post, under the tag “general nonsense,” Adams skewered professional investment advisors, suggesting they do more harm than good.
As a result, Adams wrote, the government should issue warning labels on advisors in the same way the government requires warning labels on cigarettes and nutrition information on food.
The well-known syndicated cartoonist pulled no punches.
He called the financial industry “the world’s biggest scam,” and just the place for a big government agency to step in to root out crime and pyramid schemes — which, of course, the Securities and Exchange Commission already does on a regular basis.
Adams wrote that “most people would agree that putting warning labels on cigarettes, and nutrition information on food, has served us well. It’s time to do the same with investment advice.”
For the creator of “Dilbert,” a beaten-down yet devastatingly satirical corporate cubicle worker, a frontal assault on the financial advisor community might seem out of character.
With more than 40 comments on the blog post, plenty of the people have seen fit to venture an opinion on whether advisors should come with warning labels beyond the legal boilerplate “past performance does not guarantee future results.”
Commenter “Jibbley,” wrote that financial advisor warning labels should follow hard-edged “Smoking kills!” images that equate smoking with death.
Jibbley’s suggestions for financial advisor warning labels include “All investment advice is a scam, designed purely to take your money!”
“Maybe all we need is a single warning label, ‘this doesn’t work!’” Jibbley wrote.
Then again, financial advisors — good ones at least — will tell you that much of their job has nothing to do with picking stocks, which is basically a fool’s errand.
John Nichols, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, said advisors go “well beyond simply choosing investments.” Advisors help clients meet specific goals by developing a plan.
“Not all clients are the same,” Nichols, president of the Chicago-based insurance agency Disability Resource Group, said in an email to InsuranceNewsNet. “They don’t all have the same objectives, resources or situations, so there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.”
In fact, financial advisors spend much of their lives advising folks who, like Dilbert, work in corporate cubicles and take 30-minute lunch breaks.
The Dilberts of the world are calm, introspective, dependable, stable, rarely prone to outbursts; not brilliant, perhaps, but not idiots either. And in all cases, in Adams’ world, they are smarter than their boss.
Commenter “Melvin1” wrote that any advisor who claims to outperform the market may indeed be a candidate for a government warning label.
But that’s not what they are paid for.
Financial advisors help the Dilberts of the world set realistic goals, allocate and reallocate investment portfolios to match time horizons and risk tolerance, implement tax-reduction strategies, and “Talking you out of doing something stupid,” Melvin 1 wrote.
Anthony J. Ogorek, a fee-only planner and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, said Adams confuses “stock jockeys” with financial planners.
Ogorek compared the service a skilled financial advisor provides to winning a tennis match.
“People believe that tournaments are won by hitting a lot of winners but tournaments are won by fewer unforced errors,” he said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet. ”Advisors do same thing, they minimize the self-inflicted mistakes that you are making.”
Adams seemed to be particularly vitriolic toward advisors, suggesting that getting rid of all risk and professional investment advice would mean a “permanently higher price-earnings ratio” for stocks and therefore an “enormous impact on humanity,” presumably for the good.
Ogorek, founder of Ogorek Wealth Management in Williamsville, N.Y., wondered whether Adams may have had a bad experience with an advisor.
No word on whether Adams, who’s presumably a high-net-worth — if not an ultrahigh-net-worth investor due to his wildly successful comic strip — relies on a financial advisor himself, and if he might have been burned by one in the past.
By the sounds of it, Adams isn’t in the market for an advisor. On the off-chance that he is, “I have someone I can recommend,” Ogorek said.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at email@example.com.
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