The "F" Word

The use of the "F" word has grown in the past few years in the financial services world.  No, not  that word.  I mean the "fiduciary" word.  Yet, most consumers do not understand the difference between what they should expect from a fiduciary; or, how to tell the difference between an advisor that is a fiduciary and one that is not. I'll try to help you understand the distinction. 

First, forget about using the person's title as any sort of indicator. Most of the time it doesn't matter if the person calls themselves a financial adviser, consultant, planner, wealth manager, or is a VIce-president of any sort.  It is not what the person is called that matters. It is what the person does and to whom they owe their primary loyalty that counts.

 A fiduciary places your interest above all others. That means ahead of their company, their product distributors, and even themselves. They do the right thing for their customers all the time. Even when it means they might make less money - or even no money.

Speaking of money, you cannot always tell a fiduciary by how they are paid. While it is possible to be a fiduciary and earn commissions, it can be more difficult to deal with the inherent conflicts of interest between the adviser and the client. Likewise, just because the adviser works on a fee-only basis does not mean that they are automatically acting as a fiduciary. There are conflicts in that model, too. It is not the method of compensation that determines if a person is a fiduciary. Rather it is what the person does - the actions of the adviser - that matter.

That is why NAPFA requires their members to take a fiduciary oath promising to always act in the best interest of the client. It is also why CFP Board requires certificants engaged in financial planning to adhere to their fiduciary standard of conduct.

Consumers of financial advice need to demand that their interests come first when seeking financial advice. They should ask their advisor, "Are you able and willing to always act as a fiduciary when you provide me with financial advice?"

I© PennyTree Advisers, LLC 2014