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Do Commisson-Based Fiduciary Financial Advisors EVEN Exist?

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Sometimes the Case?

By Rick Kahler MS CFP http://www.KahlerFinancial.com

Rick Kahler MS CFPCan a financial advisor represent your best interests and still earn a commission? Surprisingly, this can sometimes be the case.

But … It’s up to you to find out.


Being required to put the consumer’s interest first, which means representing a client rather than selling products and services to a customer is called having a fiduciary duty. While fee-only planners are inherently fiduciaries, they don’t exclusively own the fiduciary domain. The definition of a fiduciary duty does not inherently ban receiving commissions. Numerous statutes and applications of common law can require someone receiving a commission from selling a financial product to act in a fiduciary capacity.

One such circumstance was discussed in a blog post at http://www.kitces.com by Duane Thompson, president of Potomac Strategies, LLC, a legislative and public relations consulting firm.

Registered Investment Advisor

Those registered with the SEC as Registered Investment Advisors (RIA) under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 are required to uphold a fiduciary standard of care. Advisors must register as RIAs if they, “for compensation, engage in the business of advising others” about investing in securities and as a central part of the business.

The 1940 Act has almost nothing to say about linking compensation to fiduciary responsibility. While large firms selling financial products can argue whether they must register as RIAs, it is clear that anyone registered as an RIA is held to a fiduciary standard, regardless of their compensation structure.

That said, the chances are an advisor who is compensated 100% by commissions is not an RIA and not held to a fiduciary standard. Of the 11,475 adviser firms registered with the SEC, only four are commission only, according to Thompson. Of the remainder, those that receive  a commission also charge some type of fee.

The Odds

The overwhelming odds are that, if you don’t pay a fee to a company giving investment advice or selling a financial product, they are not legally required to look after your best interests.

Even though an RIA who is totally or in part compensated by commissions has a legal obligation to put your interests first, they may still have a conflict of interest, which the SEC requires them to disclose. The size of that conflict of interest depends on the percentage of an adviser’s revenue derived from selling financial products.


For example, a RIA receiving 90% of their revenue from the sale of financial products has a large conflict of interest. The sustainability of the company and advisers’ careers depends upon sales. Arguably it’s going to be very difficult for an adviser to remain unbiased, especially if what may be in the client’s best interest is a no-load, low cost index mutual fund or variable annuity; which pay no commission.

Conversely, an advisor receiving 99% of their revenue from fees and 1% from commissions on the sale of low-cost term life insurance has almost no conflict. The sale of the insurance is most likely a convenience for clients and has an insignificant financial impact to the adviser.


[Fiduciary Advisor versus Sales Man/Woman] 

In order to find out the likelihood of advisers upholding a fiduciary standard, first ask whether they are a RIA with the SEC. If not, they owe you no fiduciary responsibility. You are a customer.


If an adviser is an RIA, however, don’t assume there is no conflict of interest that may taint the fiduciary relationship. Ask how much of the firm’s gross revenue comes from commissions on the sale of financial products and how much comes from fees paid directly by clients. The higher the percentage of revenue that comes from fees, the lower the conflict of interest and the greater the chance you will receive unbiased, client-centered advice.


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Financial Product Sales, Communication and Management

Techniques-of-Art for Financial Advisors

By Robert Ayrer and ME-P Staff Writers


Before any piece of work that requires communication can be understood, the context must be established.  Without context, words have very little reality; and without reality, there can be no communication. Communication is the “transfer of meaning.”


The lack of a definitive role of the marketing function (and the sales function, and the difference between the two) for financial advisors [FAs], has contributed to the lack of clarity required for the achievement of sales targets. The fuzzy line between “targets” and “goals” has left most financial product salesmen, OSJs [Office of Supervisory Jurisdiction] and sales managers without the “tools to manage.” In this context, we will define the financial sales person’s role as the “person responsible for the execution of the corporate, or personal, sales plan, which includes the short term marketing of the company.”

Marketing versus Sales

Long term strategic marketing is a very sophisticated process, requiring highly trained people that are not involved with the mundane, day-to-day activities of the enterprise.  Unfortunately, this type of “marketing” is done by too few businesses, RIAs, BDs, and FAs.

The “marketing plan”, as defined by Malcolm H. B. McDonald, Director of the Cranfield Marketing Planning Centre, of the Cranfield School of Management, is a comprehensive business plan, incorporating and integrating all of the elements of business; the four “P’s” — Product, Price, Place and Promotion. More often than not, financial sales organizations and RIAs are run by people with “Director of Sales & Marketing” titles.  This use of the “marketing” title often confuses the difference between marketing and sales. For our purposes, we will include the very short term marketing function in the sales department’s role.

Dirty Ear Marketing

This “very short term marketing” required of the FA or sales person is what is called “The dirty ear” marketing.  The “dirty ear” comes from “keeping an ear to the ground” to detect changes in the market that would affect the assumptions that support the marketing plan and the company sales plan.

It has been said that the American plains Indians could drive a stick into the ground, put the end of the stick to their ear and tell if the buffalo herd was within twenty miles — and, by bending the stick, tell in which direction.  The more sophisticated tracker could tell whether the herd was approaching or going away.

It is this short term, close in, change in direction of the market (herd) upon which the assumptions of the marketing and sales plan are based, that should be the concern of the sales department or financial advisor and business owners. 

Of Bull and Bear Markets

For example, during times of economic expansion, and bull markets, the purchasing authority for many items is transferred down the reporting chain to the lowest possible responsible level of management. At this level a sales person or FA may only require one or two calls to complete the selling process with a buying authority. This authority level would dictate the activity of sales people in achieving their personal sales plan and achieving their targets and goals. 

During a recession however, as is occurring now, authority to buy may be withdrawn from the customary buying level, designating someone at a higher level as the “buyer.” The financial sales person still must go through the traditional contact at the lower level. These contacts can now only say “no”. They cannot say “yes.” By adding another level of decision making to the buying process, additional activity will be required to make the average sale. You cannot double the activity required to make a sale and make the same number of sales!  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that working harder is the answer, as there is only a finite amount of time available to get to your prospects. Your options are; change the plan; adjust the sales budget; add more sales representatives.

The Sales Cycle

Continuing a sales plan based upon the assumption of a two-call sales cycle when the market requires a three or four call cycle will take your sales plan out of reality.  The key to both a good marketing plan and a good sales plan is “reality.”  It is the FA or sales manager’s prime function to see that the sales organization is working in “reality” by constantly testing the basic assumptions of the sales plan.

The challenge to every financial services business owner, sales manager and every FA sales person is to stay focused on the prime objective of a sales person – processing the sale.  To maintain focus on the sales objective, the activities of a sales person should be looked at in two categories; “tasks” and “selling objectives.”  The tasks are those activities that all sales people are required to do to service clients – handle back-charges, warranty claims, stocking services, point of sale maintenance, etc.  The selling objectives are defined by the sales progression used in the sales strategy.

Processing the Sale

To give better understanding to this concept, consider the following.  If you find a local bank that offers a certificate of deposit that is paying a good return, and you put $10,000 on deposit, you have made an “investment.”  It is an “investment” because you expect your money back with a profit.  To find this investment opportunity you must be focused externally (not within your own business).  And, investments are a source of new capital.

If, on the other hand you take the $10,000 and purchase a car for your business, your focus is internal to your business, solving a problem of transportation, and you will only realize gain by reducing an existing or potential expense. You will not realize any new capital from this expenditure.  This use of the $10,000 is an “expense.”

Internal and External Focus

To generalize, if your focus is external and you are seeking to generate new capital by exploiting new opportunities, this is an investment.  If your focus is internal, and you are solving problems (the activities that come after the sale), the time and money spent is an expense.

Tasks and Objectives

Sales people sometimes lose sight of the difference between the “tasks” (internally focused after sales activities that are expenses to the company) and the sales “objectives” (opportunity seeking activity that will result in generating new capital through sales). Although we must service the task items, we can avoid “buying” the customer’s problem (forgetting that the customer’s problem is our opportunity).  The way we make sure we maintain focus on the opportunity rather than the problem – is to link every task with a sales objective. 

Management Reporting

Historically, we have asked sales people and FAs to report to management through an activity report that usually records the “task” items but ignores the opportunity items. To use the reporting system as a training and management tool, stop requiring the typical activity and expense reports.

Instead, ask your sales people fill out an “Opportunity” report and an “Investment” report.  It is true; “What gets measured gets improved!”  If you want your sales people to be externally focused and seek opportunities, investing in accounts rather than “solving problems” and spending money (“expense” items), measure and report on the opportunities and investments.  It is more positive to run an investment department for your business rather than a cost center.

Managing For Results

Peter Drucker observes that “… there are no profit centers in a business; there are only cost centers.”  The profits centers are external.  Again, quoting Drucker; “Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems!”


The above offering is intended to help financial advisors and sales people “manage” themselves, and for the sales people who have assumed the mantle of OSJ or “manager”, etc


And so, your thoughts and comments on this Medical Executive-Post are appreciated.

Speaker:If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com 

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Why Hire a Financial Advisor?

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Worth of Services Questioned by Some

[Staff Reporters]


While at a conference in Baltimore, DC, VA and the Eastern Shore of Maryland; and nestled among the rustic rowhouses and quaint scenic homes; a rural doctor recently asked us this traditional question but with a new spin.

Q: Does software, the internet and cloud computing, ETFs and index funds, etc., obviate the need for financial advisors? His email query was similar, but even more pointed.

Value Added – or No

In other words, he wrote, “for many informed investors, firms like Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab, TD Waterhouse – and other mutual fund companies and discounters – and even independents like www.FinancialFinesse.com  offer the same or similar services of Financial Advisors, benefits managers, Financial Consultants, stock-brokers, Certified Financial Planners®, Financial Analysts and Wealth Managers for free. Some do, or don’t, have account minimums. Some charge, while others do not. Far too many appear self-biased. Far too many have the same mind-set.” 


So, why pay brokerage commissions – or a percentage-of-assets – on a corpus they didn’t earn in the first place? Please tell me why this medical practitioner should “hire” a financial advisor, especially now that the market is so bad and the entire industry seems to have gotten it so wrong?

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Your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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