You've been fortunate enough to find a financial advisor you trust, one 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. Then, the worst happens: He or she decides to quit.
Maybe retirement has beckoned long enough. Perhaps the pressures of working for a high-powered financial institution have become too great. It's even possible that your advisor may have been pushed out by an employer because of his or her reluctance to embrace new, profit-centric philosophies. Whatever the reason, you need to know how to protect yourself.
The hard sell
Whether your advisor works for a big Wall Street brokerage company like Morgan Stanley, or with a smaller local firm, you'll likely get invited to meet with the new advisor who is assuming responsibility for your account. You may meet that new advisor one-on-one, or with your current advisor. For many people, that initial meeting is extremely uncomfortable; in some ways, it feels as though you're cheating on someone with whom you have a close personal relationship.
You'll probably want 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 stay put.
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 previous one. In some cases, the transition will be almost seamless, and you'll be able to continue the same course you've followed since you began working with the firm.
New strategy or new commissions?
However, your new advisor may have completely different ideas about how you should invest to reach your financial goals. Conservative investors with fixed-income securities and stable blue-chip stocks may suddenly get pitched 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 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. To decide whether you want to continue working with your new advisor, pay attention to your gut instinct. If you don't trust your new advisor, you won't be able to have a successful business relationship. You deserve an advisor with whom you feel completely comfortable.
Get a second opinion
If you're not sure whether your new advisor is doing the right thing for you, consider having 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:
- 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.
- 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. The advice you receive won't be as objective as what you'd get from a paid independent professional.
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The retirement of a trusted financial advisor can be as traumatic as the loss of a longtime friend. By remaining objective and cautious, you can take steps to ensure that you will continue to receive the good advice you've come to expect.
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This article has been updated by Dan Caplinger, who doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy won't let you down.