Libertas Wealth Management Group is a multi-award winning, fee-only financial planning and portfolio management firm located in Columbus, Ohio. We primarily work with two types of client:
Corporations and Non-Profits
Educating employees, increasing retirment plan participation rates, and managing retirement plan portfolios as a 3(38) fiduciary, and
Individuals and Couples
Conducting at least three appointments as we put together a full-blown financial plan and comparative analysis with recommendations on the third meeting.
Through the use of trend-following, relative strength, sector/country rotation, and other methods of technical analysis, our firm aims to capture as much upside in the markets as possible, while at the same time avoiding as much of the downside during downard cycles and crashes. We want to ensure you get to retirement on time, and most importantly, when you retire, protect your money so that it lasts longer than you.
Fee-Only Versus Fee-Based – Conflicts Of Interest And The Fiduciary Standard
Financial planners can be paid in multiple ways, hourly fees, on-going management fees, or through commissions earned by selling products. Fee-only planning has gained in popularity in the last few years because of its transparent compensation structure and because it removes the conflict of interest associated with selling a commission based product. This means more clients are switching to these types of planners. In response, many commission based advisors have attempted to get their share of the market back by offering fee-based planning in addition their commission based practice. So let’s take a look at what “Fee-Only” financial planners are and why it is so important. First off, they are never paid a commission. An advisor compensated through commissions inherently faces a conflict of interest between the interests of the client and that of the financial professional. These commissions provide an incentive to sell products with the highest payout to the advisor (e.g. loaded mutual funds, variable annuities, whole life insurance) regardless of whether or not this is the best option for the client. “Fee-only” advisors are paid based on a percentage of the assets they manage. This aligns the planner’s goals with those of the client, which is to grow a client’s wealth. But the real difference comes from the Fiduciary Standard. Fee-only financial registered investment advisors are held to this standard, which means by law, they must have their clients’ best interest at heart. Therefore, fee-only planners will recommend the best investments for a client not the ones with the highest payout.
Because of the obvious popularity of this model, commission based advisors have started adding “Fee-Based” as an option to their clients. Do not be confused. This means that some of their compensation comes directly from their clients as fees, but not all. They still sell financial products to their clients for commissions or accept referral fees to refer their clients to other professionals. With these conflicts of interest in place a financial plan becomes just another “sales pitch”. After analyzing a person’s cash flows an advisor will “show” the client how they need more insurance, which they can conveniently sell to them. Also, an advisor who earns commissions by selling products has the incentive to sell more products. Therefore, if the advisor has to meet their sales goals for the month, all they need to do is come up with a reason to sell one fund and then purchase a new one generating more commissions. This does not mean that all commission based advisors would act in this manner, but the conflict of interest and incentives are still present. For more information about Fee-Only planning check out NAPFA.org. They are the best resource for Fee-Only planning and the Fiduciary Standard.
What makes fee-only planning so different?
Many financial advisors work on a commission basis. That means they get paid when you buy products from them, or invest in mutual funds that share fees with the advisor. Other advisors work on a fee-based system in which you may pay an hourly rate for a financial plan, but then your advisor also gets paid a commission when you buy one of the products suggested in the plan. Under commission and fee-based systems, the advisor has an interest in selling you certain products so they can earn commissions. Under a fee-only system, the way I work, I only get paid by you. I don’t take any commissions or other fees from vendors, so I don’t have any incentive to sell you things you don’t need, or put you in particular investment funds. And, I can help you with financial questions that can’t be solved by traditional products for sale. I believe the fee-only way of providing advice best serves your needs.
Why is your being a fiduciary important?
As a fiduciary, I act in good faith and put your interests first. I will disclose any conflicts of interest I may have. Not all financial advisors will work this way, but most fee-only planners do. Putting your interests first is the only way I will conduct my business. Do you know how much you’re paying for financial advice? It’s extremely important to know exactly how, and how much, you’re paying for financial advice. Knowing this can assure you if your financial planner works for you … or for profits. Doster Financial Planning (DFP) is committed to serving the best interests of clients by avoiding the inherent conflicts of interest that accompany commissions and referral fees. That’s why we are a fee-only firm, or more directly stated, a commission-free firm. The debate over the best form of compensation has been a hot button issue for years. With any of the following methods, you want to make sure that your financial adviser’s recommendations are always in your best interest.
Understanding the Different Ways Your Financial Planner Can be Paid
The three common models of compensation for financial advisers are:
Commission-Free Compensation (Fee-only)
This model minimizes conflicts of interest. A commission-free financial planner only charges for his or her advice. No other financial reward is provided by any other institution, which means fee-only advisers do not receive commissions on the actions they take on the clients’ behalf. In essence, commission-free financial advisers sell only one thing – their knowledge. Commission-free advisers can charge three different ways: 1) hourly, 2) percentage of your portfolio (1% is typical), or 3) retainer. Doster Financial Planning is a commission-free firm that charges by the hour. We are upheld to the fiduciary standard of care. This means our recommendations are always in the clients best interests, and are never based on our own financial gain.
This form is often confused with fee-only, but they are distinctly different. Fee-based financial advisers charge clients a fee for the advice delivered just like commission-free financial planners. However, fee-based advisers also receive commissions from the products they sell their clients. These commissions are typically hidden in paperwork and not clearly understood by clients. Most clients have no idea how much they pay their fee-based adviser. Additionally, these commissions lessen the advisers ability to keep their client’s best interests first.
A financial adviser who is compensated through commissions is primarily a salesperson. Consumers should be wary about engaging an adviser who is compensated solely by commissions. Many commission-based advisers may be well intended, but far too many will not have the best interests of the client at heart.
DEFINITION OF ‘FIDUCIARY’
- A person legally appointed and authorized to hold assets in trust for another person. The fiduciary manages the assets for the benefit of the other person rather than for his or her own profit.
fi·du·ci·ar·y fəˈdo͞oSHēˌerē,-SHərē/ adjectiveLAW adjective: fiduciary
- involving trust, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary.
The Bottom Line
With cost being one of the primary determinants of investment performance over the long term, the fiduciary standard appears to have the upper hand in terms of providing a benefit for underlying clients. Given the more stringent stipulations for investment fiduciaries, there is little question that the fiduciary standard better protects individual and institutional investors, than the suitability standard. Federal securities laws consider investment advisors fiduciaries, but this does not apply to broker-dealers across the board. Overall, it is best for individuals to find an advisor who will place his or her interests below that of the client. An investment advisor has no choice to fulfill this fiduciary stipulation, and the client may also be able to find brokers willing to adhere to this higher standard.
Wall Street Journal:
Anyone can hang out a shingle as a financial planner, but that doesn’t make that person an expert. They may tack on an alphabet soup of letters after their names, but CFP (short for certified financial planner) is the most significant credential. A CFP has passed a rigorous test administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards about the specifics of personal finance. CFPs must also commit to continuing education on financial matters and ethics classes to maintain their designation. The CFP credential is a good sign that a prospective planner will give sound financial advice. Still, even those who pass the exam may come up short on skills and credibility. As with all things pertaining to your money, be meticulous in choosing the right planner.
How to Find the Right Financial Planner
It’s best to go with a certified financial planner (CFP), which is an instant signal of credibility – but not a guarantee of same. For more leads, check the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). These planners are fee-only, which means their only revenue comes from their clients. They accept no commissions at all and pledge to act in their clients’ best interests at all times. In many respects, NAPFA standards meet or surpass the requirements needed for a CFP credential. Look for a fiduciary. In short, this means the planner has pledged to act in a client’s best interests at all times. Investment professionals who aren’t fiduciaries are often held to a lesser standard, the so-called sustainability standard. That means that anything they sell you merely has to be suitable for you, not necessarily ideal or in your best interest. This point is critical, and should be a deal breaker if a prospective planner is not a fiduciary. Dual Registration can make the legal situation very confusing. Today, a large number of financial advisors serve as both investment advisers and brokers. According to a FINRA study, 88% of investment adviser representatives are also registered as brokers.[x] For example, you open several accounts with a financial advisor employed by one of the major brokerage firms. The advisor may sell you a “fee-based” account where she acts an investment adviser and concurrently sell you bonds or limited partnerships in another account where she gets a commission (which you may not even see) and functions as a broker. Which hat does she want to wear today and how much does she want to get paid? The biggest issue for clients of dual registrants is that ultimately the lower legal standard typically applies to the dual registrant wirehouse broker who can function as both an investment adviser and stockbroker. Insurance Licensing is also common for many brokers and investment advisers. Insurance products can have massive embedded commissions and present significant conflicts of interest for financial advisors. These conflicts of interest are generally not disclosed and the fiduciary duty is not followed.
How can I tell if my adviser is a fiduciary or a stockbroker?
- Look at the disclosures on the advisor’s website, marketing materials and business cards. Brokers who sell products & dual registrants will have disclosures that look something this:
Company XYZ makes available products and services offered by XYZ, a registered broker-dealer and Member Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). Insurance and annuity products are offered by DDT, a licensed insurance agency and wholly owned subsidiary of XYZ. Banking products are provided by XXY, Members FDIC and wholly owned subsidiaries of XYZ
- Ask, “Are you legally obligated to put my best interests ahead of yours?” “Will you be serving as my fiduciary?”
- Ask, “Will my account be an advisory account or a brokerage account?” An answer of brokerage account will be your clue that you have found a stockbroker or dual registrant.
- Ask to see the advisor’s form ADV. The form ADV will describe, among other things, fees & compensation, types of clients, disciplinary information, conflicts of interest, and education. If the advisor cannot provide you with an ADV, then the advisor is most likely a broker. Bear in mind that just because you get an ADV however, doesn’t mean that the advisor doesn’t also put on the broker hat from time to time if she is dual registrant.
- Ask if the advisor is fee-only or “fee-based”. Fee-only advisers will be fiduciaries. Fee-only advisors cannot legally accept commissions and their only source of revenue is the fee they charge for advice and investment management. Since brokers are commission oriented, they cannot legally hold themselves out as fee-only. “Fee-based” however is a very different story. A“fee-based” advisor offers advisory accounts as well as brokerage accounts and is a dual registrant. So while she may put on the advisory hat one day, the next day she might put on the brokerage or insurance agent hat to sell some limited partnerships or annuities.
- Ask what licenses the advisor has. A “series 7 license” means the advisor is registered as a stockbroker (the series 7 is the broker examination). The series 65 or 66 means she is registered as an investment advisor. Having both the series 7 and 65/66 equates to dual registration, which brings about the problems we covered previously in this article. Having an insurance license means she can sell you life insurance and annuities and accept commissions.