The Most Important Question You’ll Ever Ask Your Financial Advisor


Does your financial advisor follow the Fiduciary Standard or the Suitability Standard?

If you don’t know the answer without peeking – or calling your Lifeline – you’re not alone. A surprising number of people don’t know what these very important terms mean and whether their advisor is acting in their best interest.

Aren’t all financial advisors required to act in their client’s best interest?

Surprisingly, not all financial advisors are.

Broker-dealers, insurance salesman, and bank and financial company representatives, for instance, are only required to follow a Suitability Standard. That means they must provide recommendations that are “suitable” for a client – based on age for instance, or aversion to risk – but that may or may not be in that client’s best interest.

Having a waiter recommend an expensive chocolate cake that is “suitable” for adults and for someone who is willing to risk trying chocolate with sea salt may not be that critical, in spite of the fact that having fresh strawberries may clearly be in your best interest. But having a financial advisor who is making recommendations primarily based on your age and risk tolerance – and who could be putting their own, or their company’s, financial interests ahead of your interests — could be disastrous for your financial future.

Instead, the Fiduciary Standard, which is the standard for registered investment advisors under state and federal regulations, requires that financial advisor act solely in a client’s best interest when offering financial advice.

Registered Investment Advisors – like Sherman Wealth Management – must follow – and are held to – the Fiduciary Standard. That means that a RIA must put their client’s needs ahead of their own, provide fully-disclosed, conflict-free advice, be fully transparent about fees, and continue to monitor a client’s investments, as well as their changing financial situation.

Here’s a potential scenario that illustrates the differences

Let’s say your broker-dealer has three possible funds to recommend to you. The first is a “suitable” index fund, offered by her own company, which pays her a 6% commission on the sale and charges a 2% annual fee. The second is a similarly suitable index fund that would pay her a 3% commission on the sale and has a 1% annual fee. The third is an index fund that has no sales commission and an annual fee of .5%. Under the Suitability Standard, she can recommend the higher priced fund and still satisfy the standard. Under the Fiduciary Standard, she would be required to recommend the third fund.

This is not to suggest that broker-dealers or others operating under the Suitability Standard don’t look out for their clients.  While many reps who follow the Suitability Standard give their clients excellent advice, they operate with an inherent conflict: the pressure to sell products that are more profitable for them and/or their firm can be important factors in how they direct you to invest.

So go ahead and let the waiter talk you into that chocolate cake (even though you know you’ll feel better tomorrow if you have the strawberries.) But when it comes to your money, think carefully about whose advice you are taking.