The other day, I attended a financial "seminar" with my parents. They wanted to see whether they'd learn anything. I wanted to enjoy the complimentary brunch -- and see whether I could learn anything myself. I sure did.
The gentleman who conducted the seminar -- let's call him Brutus -- started off by saying that he was going to cover 52 topics and that he hoped we'd each learn a thing or two. I wondered whether he really meant to suggest that he was going to bore us with stuff we already know about 50 or 51 of the topics.
He seemed like a nice enough fellow and was earnestly trying to win some financial-planning business from the 20 to 30 senior citizens (and me) in attendance. But the more he spoke, the more my happy anticipation of brunch turned into dismay. He was giving out a lot of false information.
For starters, he rushed from topic to topic, often being vague and not defining things clearly. When we were on mutual funds, he asked the group what the average fee was for funds. I wasn't sure what he meant but said I thought it was around 1% -- if he was talking about expense ratios. No, he answered. It's more like 1.5%, and it's the 12b-1 fee. Well, I know a little about mutual fund fees, and I know that 12b-1 fees cover marketing and distribution expenses (and sometimes shareholder services) and are not generally that high. He probably meant the expense ratio, which includes the 12b-1 fee, and is often between 0.5% and 2%. When I got home, I did a little research that revealed that the average expense ratio is around 1.4% today, though it's closer to 1% for large-cap stock funds.
Mutual fund mayhem
Brutus later addressed turnover in mutual funds -- a worthwhile lesson to teach folks, I thought. But he got it all wrong. First, he said that the turnover ratio reflects a fund manager buying and selling the same stock over and over. In reality, it reflects the activity of a manager buying and selling the same or different securities. He suggested that if a fund has a turnover ratio of 450%, the manager bought and sold a stock 450 times. Wrong. It would mean that in the past year, the manager has bought and sold securities equal in value to 450% of the fund's value. So a $10 billion fund would have had $45 billion of securities bought and sold in it in the past year. Which is still a lot, and it suggests that the manager doesn't have much patience or conviction in his ideas.
At one point, Brutus flashed a slide on the screen, featuring a quotation from Berkshire Hathaway's
Brutus didn't like stocks in general, either, suggesting that they don't protect us from inflation, among other things. But I find it hard to find fault with the idea of investing in a broad-market index fund for the long haul -- or even in carefully selected individual stocks. (Heck, even Buffett has recommended index funds.) If you'd hung onto Disney
The bottom line
So what did I get out of this experience? A free meal, a complimentary pen, and a plastic lapel pin of the American flag. I don't think my parents found the financial planner of their dreams. They would be much better off tapping the services of our own TMF Money Advisor service, which offers personalized, professional, inexpensive advice. And if they'd like to keep hunting for someone to consult face-to-face, I'll send them to our Advisor Center for tips on how to snag a good one.
By the way, if you'd like to receive several promising stock ideas delivered via email each month, learn more about our suite of investment newsletters, which we offer along with some free research reports. You can try them all for free, and their performance may surprise you. (I've tried them all and can't recall ever wincing upon spotting a falsehood in them.)
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Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club , Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Wal-Mart, and Magellan. For more about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.