It's a story that's becoming more and more common. You've been fortunate enough to find a financial advisor you trust, who gives you good advice that's in your best interest. You have a solid financial plan in place, and everything is going smoothly despite the ups and downs of the stock and bond markets. Your advisor knows you and your financial situation so well that you hardly have to do anything; you can count on your advisor to let you know when something happens that concerns you.
Then, the worst thing imaginable happens: Your advisor decides to quit. Maybe retirement has beckoned long enough that your advisor has finally chosen to give in to the temptation and find life after work. Perhaps the pressures of working for a high-powered financial institution have become too much to endure. It's even possible that your advisor may have been pushed out by an employer due to your advisor's reluctance to embrace new philosophies that many financial institutions are moving toward as a way of maximizing firm profits. Whatever the reason, you need to know what to do to protect yourself.
The hard sell
Whether your advisor works for a large brokerage firm like Merrill Lynch
Your first inclination will likely be to ask your current advisor for an opinion on the prospective new advisor. While you may get the same frank, open answers you've gotten in the past, you should understand that your advisor is often in an awkward position. Some brokerage firms tie retirement compensation and other benefits to whether or not the retiring advisor's clients stay with the brokerage firm. Therefore, your advisor may have a financial incentive for you to remain with the firm rather than finding another advisor elsewhere.
In itself, there's nothing wrong with a new advisor taking over your accounts. You may find that over time, you like your new advisor just as much as you liked the advisor you worked with previously. In some cases, the transition will be almost seamless, and you'll be able to continue along the same course that you followed since you began working with the firm.
New strategy or new commissions?
However, you may have a much less pleasant experience. Your new advisor may have completely different ideas about how you should invest to reach your financial goals and advise you to make a major shift in the assets you hold as investments. Conservative investors with large amounts of their money in fixed-income securities and stable blue-chip stocks may suddenly find themselves given literature about more aggressive investments like hedge funds and other unfamiliar alternatives. Even though you may make only a small number of transactions in a given year, you may find yourself offered products such as unified managed accounts, which purport to give access to investments that only wealthy investors can make but which also carry with them significant annual fees regardless of your level of trading activity.
Even if you don't understand everything your new advisor is suggesting, you may get a gut feeling that you're being given an intense sales pitch. It's often hard to know for sure, especially because many financial professionals receive sales training that is designed to anticipate your concerns and put you at ease. In evaluating whether you want to continue working with your new advisor, you should pay attention to your gut instinct. Keep in mind that if you don't trust your new advisor, you won't be able to have a successful business relationship. Given how much compensation your advisor receives for working with you, you deserve an advisor with whom you feel completely comfortable.
Get a second opinion
If you have doubts about whether your new advisor is doing the right thing for you, one thing you can do is to have another financial professional look over whatever new strategies or products you've been offered. Just as you wouldn't want to decide on having a life-threatening surgical procedure without considering all your options, you shouldn't consent to a radical change in your investment portfolio without knowing all the facts.
Among the questions you will want answered are how the costs of the proposed strategy compare to your current strategy, whether there will be any tax impact to switching to the new strategy, how well the proposed investments have performed in relation to similar investments offered by other institutions, and whether the new strategy will be riskier than your current strategy. Although some professionals may offer to do this free of charge, you should consider using someone who charges a reasonable fee for the time spent looking at your situation. Professionals who do initial work at no charge are implicitly hoping to convince you to choose them as your new advisor, and so you the advice you receive won't be as objective as what you receive from a paid independent professional.
Facing the retirement of a trusted financial advisor can be as traumatic as the loss of a longtime friend. By remaining objective and cautious during your transition to a new advisor, you can take steps to ensure that you will continue to receive the good advice you've come to expect.
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