April 15, 2024

Wealth Matters: Taking the Time to Pick the Right Financial Adviser

In the past, there have been few people to consult about whom to pick. Accountants and lawyers have played this role, warily. But they would typically present two or three advisers and leave the final decision up to the investor.

Now Douglas Black, a 30-year brokerage industry veteran, has started a firm called SpringReef Partners that will screen and select financial advisers for wealthy families. While the amount of wealth needed to receive his advice is high — from $5 million to $50 million — his approach can help those intent on evaluating an adviser to fit their needs. His advice may be aimed at the wealthy, but anyone with money to invest can adopt his practices.

“Firms don’t do a very good job of matching adviser capability with client complexity,” Mr. Black said. “They haven’t taken the focus away from the advisers in determining who is going to end up with whom.”

Mr. Black, who started his career as a financial adviser and stepped down as the chief operating officer of UBS Wealth Management in 2010, is entering this business at an opportune time. Investors are particularly insecure about making the wrong choice.

Charlotte B. Beyer, founder and chief executive of the Institute for Private Investors, said her members were now screening eight to 10 advisers when they used to meet with two or three.

“That’s an enormous difference and an enormous time commitment,” Ms. Beyer said.

While wealthy investors may have made a lot of money and surely understand how complex the world is, they are just as afraid as anyone else of getting this choice wrong. So how do you pick the right adviser without being overwhelmed by the process?

TYPICAL MISTAKES Regardless of wealth, people make the same mistakes in selecting advisers.

Listening to family and friends for suggestions on money management — or, worse, picking family and friends to do it — can be a bad idea. First, there is no correlation between your sense about a person and that person’s ability to do a good job. Remember all the people who felt such affection for Bernard L. Madoff? And second, hiring a friend or relative makes firing that person tough.

Rushing the process is another mistake. Picking a financial adviser can be as serious as selecting a doctor, and it certainly should require more time than picking a paint color. But for many investors, even those who had to make tough decisions in business, it is about as interesting as watching that paint dry.

“People don’t interview enough people on the front end,” said Jim Grubman, owner of FamilyWealth Consulting, which works with advisers. “They’ll take someone else’s recommendations. What works for your friend or your colleague may not be the best fit for you.”

Relying on a name brand firm can be just as bad as going with someone you know. But selecting a boutique firm in the belief that smaller size means more attention for clients can be equally problematic.

“Our belief is there are exceptional advisers spread across all different types of platforms, but there are no great firms,” Mr. Black said.

QUESTIONS TO ASK Picking an adviser is an awful lot like choosing a spouse: you really want the relationship to last forever, to be rewarding and fulfilling, but if it happens to fall apart, you don’t want that to destroy you.

Mr. Black, whose firm is paid either a fixed fee or a percentage of assets for continuing monitoring, said he asked 18 questions of all firms and 17 of advisers. For firms, some of the major questions involve how the organization functions, its experience and risk-management practices and how it handles problems that arise.

For advisers, the criteria are a mix of set standards and questions. He will not work with any adviser who has fewer than seven years’ experience. One thing he found when he worked at UBS was that it generally took at least seven years for any financial malfeasance to surface. He said he also wanted to make sure that the adviser’s firm had broad experience with clients whose wealth levels were similar to his own client’s.

Yet, he said, the value his firm will bring to the selection process may be in the questions that do not have simple yes or no answers. The 17 criteria for advisers are listed on the firm’s Web site.

One simple statistic he looks at is how much additional money an adviser’s existing clients are asking him or her to manage. Mr. Black said most very wealthy people had several advisers from various stages in their lives. But the one who is doing the best job — as opposed to the friend from high school — is the one who gets the new money they are making.

Yet even lawyers and accountants who take the typical approach of making introductions to wealth advisers are aware that the complexity of both individual investments and the global economy requires more voices, not fewer.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=00020f332e198a980bbf4ec85af67aa8

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