Just in time, some very powerful forces are lining up on the side of the individual investor vs. those in the financial services industry who have been overcharging and urging investors into flawed products. The timing is critical because the baby boom generation is rolling trillions of dollars out of company 401(k) plans and into IRAs -- and wondering what to do with their money.
It started with the Labor Department's fiduciary rule, and now the Fiduciary Institute has launched the Campaign for Investors. I attended he kickoff in Philadelphia last week. The event featured speeches by John Bogle, the legendary founder of Vanguard and creator of the index fund concept, and Phyllis Borzi of the Department of Labor, who can take credit for the new DOL fiduciary rule.
That fiduciary rule will soon require all financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients in managing most retirement accounts, with assurances that fees will be fully disclosed and the customers' interests will come first.
Registered investment advisers have always adhered to this fiduciary standard. But now the stockbrokers who call themselves advisers and the insurance agents who sell annuities linked to promises of stock market performance will all be required to adhere to the new rule.
The industry says those requirements will raise costs and possibly deny advice to "small investors." But Sheryl Garrett, founder of the nationwide Garrett Planning Network of financial advisers, which does not charge commissions or base fees on the amount of assets, says: "We've been acting as fiduciaries for 16 years, serving clients of all types. The cleanest and easiest way to minimize conflicts of interest is simply to charge for your time."
The campaign features a website, www.campaignforinvestors.org, a great starting point for individual investors seeking a trusted adviser. Key information is grouped in three sections:
--Evaluate your adviser. Whether you're searching for a new adviser or wondering about the one you have, this section lists six critical questions you should be asking -- and the answers you should receive. For example, does your adviser give you a written annual accounting of all fees and expenses paid by your account? Most people don't even know they can -- and should -- ask for this information. The section also features links to the disciplinary background checks for both brokers and advisers.
--Calculate your fees. Here's a new tool that can save you a small fortune over the life of your investment portfolio -- and years' worth of retirement income. This costs section of the site links you to a service provided by FeeX.com. It gives you an analysis of the fees charged annually in your IRA, 401(k), 403(b), brokerage and other investment accounts -- and some insights on how to save that money.
(Even if you're stuck in a company plan, this analysis should make the corporate executives think about making a change to a lower cost retirement plan -- or face fiduciary consequences!)
--Know your rights. Sadly, most investors don't know they have rights -- the right to demand information from the adviser, and rights that now will stand up in court when advisers are required to demonstrate that they have acted in the client's best interests. You don't have to be an expert in stock picking or market timing, but you do have the responsibility of picking an adviser whom you trust based on this information and research.
Perhaps I should say the time has "almost come" to empower investors. The full weight of the new DOL fiduciary standard won't come into play until the end of 2017. In the meantime, plenty of unscrupulous agents will be out there selling equity-linked annuities, packages of risky, high-yielding commercial mortgages or high-commission mutual funds -- trying to get the last commission dollar before the fiduciary rule takes full effect.
It's your money. Pay attention -- or you'll pay the consequences. The Campaign for Investors is on your side. And that's The Savage Truth.