Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Advisors Add Little Value With Higher Fees or Smaller Clients

My loyal readers know that I used to be a financial advisor.  No one wanted to pay for my advice or trust me with their assets.  I have often wondered why some investors pay "professionals" who abuse their trust and underperform benchmarks.  Some investors are just stupid, and their trusted advisors are just crooks.

The financial advisory profession is increasingly throwing away smaller investors.  Advisors make little money from smaller accounts and believe they seldom grow into larger accounts.  I saw this attitude a lot in the office where I worked.  Top-producing brokers considered non-millionaire clients to be worthless and several layers of management discouraged new advisors from pursuing such prospects.  I would have loved to have had a bunch of six-figure net worth clients just to prove that someone considered me trustworthy.  "Trust" in finance means a verifiable track record of work, no matter how unfavorable the result of said work.  Smaller investors just won't timely service or good advice from full-service firms anymore because their advisors want them to go away.

It's no prettier at the institutional end of the advisory spectrum.  A Maryland study of state pension funds shows that plan sponsors are overpaying and getting poor performance.  The higher the fees they pay, the worse their returns.  These clients are not amateur investors with $100K in assets that advisors don't want.  No ma'am.  These are retirement plan sponsors with tens of million of dollars in assets to manage.  They've been screening advisors for years using very detailed investment strategies.  They still get ripped off by professional advisors who can't outperform benchmarks.

The shop talk around the offices of institutional investment managers is much the same as it is in the retail wealth management world.  I worked for a large institution that specialized in managing retirement plan money.  The team leads in the client relationship management division were just as arrogant and clueless as top-performing wealth managers.

None of the pros are looking out for investors.  It doesn't matter whether they say they are.  Some clients are stupid and some fiduciaries are crooks.  The rest of both groups may just not know enough or care enough to do the right thing.  That's why it doesn't bother me that none of them want anything to do with me.