What would you do if your financial advisor wanted you to invest in a particular product -- but you knew that sale would earn them a generous commission? Should you seek a second opinion? After all, conflicts of interest may tempt your advisor to act in a way that isn't in line with your best interests.
The short answer is yes -- with one caveat: Make sure your primary advisor doesn't know about it.
The odd effects of second opinions
A series of experiments uncovered something strange about second opinions: When an advisor with a conflict of interest knows you will seek a second opinion, their advice becomes more biased, rather than less. In fact, even knowing that their advisees simply had the option of getting a second opinion made advisors in the experiment more likely to give self-serving advice. Why is this?
The researchers suspect that the presence of another advisor helps the biased advisor rationalize their conflict of interest by supposing that if the client visits another advisor, then that client may be OK despite the primary advisor's self-serving behavior. The primary advisor's advice became even more biased when that advisor had the impression that he or she could get away with giving bad advice.
What to do as an investor
If you feel it's time to get a second opinion, you should definitely do so. Just don't tell your primary advisor about it. In fact, if you want him or her to act in the best way possible, don't even broach the subject.
Secondly, get a second opinion that's worth your time. Of course, both of your advisors should be experts in their field, but when you're seeking a second opinion, don't just rely on credentials or a referral. Credentials don't always mean much, and well-meaning referrals can land you with an advisor who just isn't suited to you. Depending on what you need help with, you may have a hard time finding someone.
Unfortunately, you'll need to go with your gut to a some extent. Do your due diligence: speak to other clients, do a search on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's BrokerCheck tool, and do your own research on the subject you need help with so you can ask informed questions.
Also read the ADV II documents that all registered advisors are required to share with you. They make for horrible reading, but they do disclose any and all potential conflicts of interest.
Once you do find a few potential advisors to confer with, see what the cost would be. Many advisors offer free initial consultations or hourly consulting fees, while others may only want to share their knowledge if you commit to becoming a client.
After the opinion
The idea behind second opinions is to help you feel better-informed and more confident about the subject. And with these tips, you're much more likely to.