Monday, June 26, 2006

Focus on Fiduciary

Do you know that only certain financial professionals are subject to a “Fiduciary Standard”. A Fiduciary Standard means an advisor is putting their client’s interests first. In no way do they urge their clients to invest in vehicles that are in the advisor’s best interests.

fi•du•ci•ar•y – A financial advisor held to a Fiduciary Standard occupies a position of special trust and confidence when working with a client. As a Fiduciary, the financial advisor is required to act with undivided loyalty to the client. This includes disclosure of how the financial advisor is to be compensated and any corresponding conflicts of interest.

Theodore J. Feight, CFP® firmly believes this is the strongest definition of Fiduciary available because of the basic requirements of Trust, Loyalty, and Disclosure.

Trust – Someone who does not completely trust their financial advisor can never be fully confident that they are receiving the best possible advice from the best possible advisor. Without trust, can confidence really be achieved?

Loyalty – An advisor who is loyal to only their clients will not be swayed by outside forces to recommend investments with higher commissions or payouts. Without loyalty, can people ever be sure their own interests are being looked after?

Disclosure – People must know, and understand, how their financial advisor is being compensated for the advice they are providing and whether or not any conflicts exist that may cause a problem with that advisor’s ability to provide truly independent advice. Without disclosure, can prudent advice be provided?

It’s hard to find the perfect financial professional who will meet your needs. You deserve an advisor who is competent, qualified, knowledgeable, and is compensated in a manner that minimizes conflicts of interest. But, more importantly, the advisor must be held to a Fiduciary Standard, meaning they will always put your interests first. You want to always be sure the advisor is working for you – not for themselves.

Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are held to a Fiduciary Standard. By law, a Fiduciary will act solely in the best interest of the client. They must fully disclose any conflict, or potential conflict, to the client prior to and throughout a business engagement. Fiduciaries will also adopt a Code of Ethics and will fully disclose how they are compensated.

You must be careful to read and understand the disclaimers on marketing and advertising materials offered by a professional. Recent regulations put forth by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now require brokers and other professionals who are not considered fiduciaries to add the following disclosure:

“Your account is a brokerage account and not an advisory account. Our interests may not always be the same as yours. Please ask us questions to make sure you understand your rights and our obligations to you, including the extent of our obligations to disclose conflicts of interest and to act in your best interest. We are paid both by you and, sometimes, by people who compensate us based on what you buy. Therefore, our profits, and our salespersons’ compensation, may vary by product and over time.”

If this disclaimer appears, you should ask questions, obtain complete disclosure, and determine if the relationship with the financial professional is in your best interests.

Do you know what physicians, lawyers and CPAs have in common? They all hold to a Fiduciary Standard to put your interest first. Look to a Financial Planner who will put your interest first.