(from Carl Richards’ 5/8/2014 Behavior Gap newsletter – click here for the original post. Carl is a Certified Financial Planner, the creator of the New York Times’ Sketch Guy column and director of investor education at the BAM Alliance. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published last year. His sketches and more can be found here.)
Last week, The Economist published a story about the costs around mutual funds and how much investors benefit from picking low-cost options. The article said many good things, but then I got to this paragraph about paying for advice.
“Good advice is certainly worth something: many American investors in pension plans have devoted a big proportion of their portfolios to cash (a low long-term return) or to their employer’s shares (too risky). The ability to avoid such mistakes is worth a one-off fee. But an investor should not pay 1% to 1.5% a year to an adviser. Nobody has yet shown that they can correctly and consistently time markets.”
To be clear, if you’re paying for advice on how to time the market, I think your money could be better spent elsewhere. However, if you’re paying to put someone between you and stupid, I believe it’s worth every penny.
This paragraph represents one of the biggest misunderstandings about what real financial advisors do. We aren’t trying to time the market for our clients. We aren’t telling them that the Alibaba IPO is their golden ticket.
We are listening to investors when they tell us what matters most to them and helping them weigh the best options for aligning their values and their capital. We are providing an objective sounding board for all those times the market becomes a roller coaster and investors want to cash out and hide under the covers.
What The Economist and so many others miss is that the investing portion is only one part of what advisors do. Yes, it matters how much we pay for financial advice, but what’s the cost of going it alone?
At this point, it’s relatively easy for individual investors to select and invest in a low-cost, diversified mutual fund. The evidence shows it’s in the best interest of most investors to follow this path, and even Warren Buffett says it makes sense:
“In his latest letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Warren Buffett describes what should happen to his personal portfolio after his death. ‘My advice to the trustee could not be more simple: put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund.’”
For most people, however, putting the money in the best place doesn’t guarantee it will stay in the best place. And that’s why we need advisors. That’s why I have an advisor.
We need someone after we’ve made the good decision to help us stick with the good decision. It’s easy to stay on the path when things are going well, but when life takes a turn, it can be very difficult to remember all the reasons we thought it was a good idea in the first place.
Whether you give advice or receive it, it’s worth getting really clear about what you’re offering and what you’re receiving. Real financial advisors are about more than picking a stock or timing a market. They are about helping you behave, and from my experience, it’s been a very valuable investment.