A Great Financial Adviser Is Worth Every Penny


Couple meeting financial adviser
Getty Images

By Daniel Solin

A recent article by David Hanson on Motley Fool took dead aim at the "invisible and brutal cost" of using a financial adviser. His premise can be summarized as follows:

  • A hypothetical advisory fee of 1 percent of assets per year significantly reduces net returns over time.
  • Net returns are further reduced by the loss of the opportunity to invest fees deducted by the adviser.

His post damns advisers with this faint praise: "I am not saying financial advisers are wicked people. Nor am I saying many advisers don't provide a deeply valuable service. However, if you do use a financial adviser or money manager, take a long, hard look ... and ask yourself, 'Am I getting my money's worth?'" These suggestions will help you do such an evaluation:

Review Vanguard's White Paper

In March, Vanguard released an extensive analysis (called "Putting a Value on Your Value") of the value alpha (a measure of an investment's performance compared to a benchmark) added by advisers. The conclusion: "Based on our analysis, advisers can potentially add 'about 3 percent' in net returns by using the Vanguard Advisor's Alpha framework." It reached this figure by placing a value, or range of values, on the following services:

  • Moving to low-cost funds: 0.45 percent
  • Annual rebalancing: up to 0.35 percent
  • Behavioral coaching: 1 percent to 2 percent
  • Tax efficiencies: zero percent to 0.75 percent
  • Withdrawal order for spending: up to 0.70 percent

Study Higher Returns of Investors in Dimensional Funds

An analysis of investor success at capturing fund returns with and without passive advisers, "The Value of a Passive Advisor," published by Index Fund Advisors, yielded some surprising results. The analysis was performed over various periods. The data comes from a number of independent, reliable sources, including Morningstar and "The Little Book of Common Sense Investing," by John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group.

It found that investors in funds managed by Dimensional Fund Advisors (available only from designated investment advisers) captured 109 percent of the returns of those funds. In contrast, investors in index funds without passive advisers captured only 78 to 88 percent of the returns of those funds. (I am affiliated with Buckingham, which uses Dimensional's funds in portfolios.)

The ability of investors in Dimensional's funds to capture more than 100 percent of the returns of those funds can be explained by two factors. Unlike many investors without advisers, investors in Dimensional's funds receive coaching to keep them from panicking and selling when the markets tank. In addition, their advisers rebalance regularly, which can be counterintuitive. Often, investors without advisers are reluctant to sell stocks when they are going up and purchase them when they are going down.

Harvest Tax Losses

Low-cost advisers may not do tax-loss harvesting at all. If they do, they may do it infrequently. Capturing losses in a timely manner can have a significant impact on your returns.

Rebalance Frequently

Many advisers rebalance once a quarter, if that frequently. A competent adviser will have software that determines reasonable tolerance ranges and will rebalance whenever it is necessary to keep your risk profile at its intended level.

Minimize the Number of Mutual Funds

A hidden cost of poor advice is caused by too many funds in your portfolio. Having a large number of funds increases the cost of rebalancing, which reduces your net returns.

Compare Services

Many low-cost advisers offer only investment advice. A true wealth adviser will offer additional services and may not break out the cost of providing those services from the advisory fee charged to clients. These services may include:

  • Providing a comprehensive review of insurance policies, including life insurance, long-term care, and property and casualty insurance.
  • Integrating your investment plan with your estate plan.
  • Providing Roth individual retirement account conversion advice.
  • Giving advice on when you should start taking your Social Security payments.
  • Providing advice on mortgage financing.
  • Providing advice on investments held in your retirement accounts, even though those accounts are not managed by your adviser and your adviser receives no additional compensation for doing so.

I have long been a proponent of focusing on fees and costs when making investment decisions. However, you should not view an adviser's fees in a vacuum. There can be a significant difference in both the quality of advice and the breath of services offered by different advisers. You should consider all of these factors and not just fees alone.

Dan Solin is the director of investor advocacy for the BAM Alliance and a wealth adviser with Buckingham. His latest book is "The Smartest Sales Book You'll Ever Read."

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Investor’s Toolbox

Improve your investing savvy with the right financial toolset.

View Course »

Asset Allocation

Learn the most important step in structuring an investment portfolio.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Sean Tankarian

A lot of people in the industry are pushed to sell their company's products. Customers may get the impression that what's being suggested is the only way to go. Just like buying a home or a car, when you buy the services of a financial professional, you have to do your homework. A great place to start is to do a background check here: www.finra.org/Investors/ToolsCalculators/BrokerCheck.

June 11 2014 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah....a "great" financial adviser (Investor Center's term) is probably "worth every penny". However, in my experience, I have not yet met one. They must all be on Wall Street working with the very rich. The ones I've met are either insurance salesmen who have no investments, people who frequently quote: "when the tide goes out, all the boats get grounded" in regard to market drops, or are phone solicitors who are, basically, salesmen doing what their office manager told them to do. They mostly follow the same rule, i.e., take an upfront fee, guarantee nothing but more fees, and invest your money in stocks and bonds that their office is pushing. And when the market goes down, they do nothing but sit with the aforementioned "boats". I can do that myself without paying a fee.

June 11 2014 at 10:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bull, educate yourself, and self invest. I've outperformed my Advisor/broker, and his national firm every year, since I retired in 1996. They get paid more to sell certain securities, stocks, bonds, etc., and if I had listened to them, rather than always picking and having them buy my choices, I'd have bought Bear Sterns, instead of JPM, and been pissed as hell.

June 11 2014 at 8:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I can save you the cost of a financial advisor right here, right now.
If you want to have money, don't spend it.

June 11 2014 at 7:24 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply