Affluent investors hungry for financial advice have their pick of wealth managers to help them. It’s a crowded field, and because of that, it stands to reason that not all are created equal.

That’s not to say that some are inherently bad or are trying to take advantage of you. But for some wealth managers out there, your goals and interests may not be their top priority. It’s up to you to make sure that, when you’re choosing someone to look after your money, you’re getting the whole picture and understanding that your specific needs are being taken care of.

While these three topics hardly constitute everything to watch out for, they tend to be the most overlooked and/or the ones most quickly skated over by some managers. So with that in mind, here are three things to be mindful of when looking for a wealth manager.

1. Look for an Expert in Investment Management—Not Relationship Management

Most investors seek out a wealth manager to get help building an investment portfolio geared to specific financial goals. Therefore, they assume that when they speak to one, that person is an investment expert.

In many cases, they’re right—but not always. Consumers need to be aware that some are primarily relationship managers. They manage the relationship with the investor, respond to requests, and recommend and sell products. Their primary job is to bring in a lot of new assets by building up a book of clients. They’re not judged internally on how well their clients’ investments perform; they’re judged on how many new clients and additional assets they bring into the company.

This brings up an important distinction between many of the wealth managers out there: You should always look for someone who adheres to what’s called the fiduciary standard. This means that, by regulation, they are required to look out for your best interests—not their own. By seeking out a wealth manager held to the fiduciary standard, you can trust that they’re giving you the best advice for your situation.

2. Beware of Compounding Fees

Since you’re paying a fee for advice, you might assume that fee covers everything. Well, that’s not always the case. You may be forced to pay extra fees that weren’t obvious to you from the start, and your advisor may be making money on those fees. You have a right to know all the sources of your advisor’s income as it relates to your accounts.

While many wealth managers are upfront about detailing precisely how they’re paid, some rely on lengthy disclosure documents that deliberately obfuscate the exact details of how they’re getting paid.

Luckily, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires firms to publish the Form ADV Part 2A, which explains their compensation in plain language, without the jargon. You can look up many managers’ list prices on the SEC website, and you can request the document from them. It will explain if they’re paid a commission from the investments they sell, charge a flat fee or a percentage, or are paid in other ways.

3. Ensure They Can Manage the Whole Picture

There are a broad range of variables that affect your financial life, including taxes, insurance, retirement income planning, estate planning, and more. These are all tied to your goals, core values, objectives and risk tolerance. Moreover, balancing all these components is an ongoing process.

In other words, successfully managing your wealth isn’t always about getting the best possible returns. It’s about how you define wealth at each stage of your life. Real wealth management goes far beyond a colored pie chart illustrating a “diverse” portfolio. It’s about the hard conversations. Are you saving enough to meet your goals? Are you budgeting properly? Do you have some sort of estate plan? Are you making too many assumptions? As you can see, these conversations are far, far away from portfolio construction, and it’s important to find an advisor who’s looking out for your entire financial life.

Overall, wealth management is a highly regulated industry with several agencies watching over it. There are a lot of good—even great—wealth managers out there working every day in their clients’ best interests. However, it never hurts to be aware of some of the things that a wealth manager might not be so up front about.

Wealth Enhancement Group is a registered investment advisory (RIA) firm, meaning we’re held to the fiduciary standard and are looking out for the best interests of our clients. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you work toward your financial goals.

 

A version of this article was originally published on November 21, 2013 on Forbes.com. You may view the article here.

Jim Cahn

Jim Cahn

Chief Investments and Business Development Officer

Series 7 & 24 Securities Registrations,1 Series 66 Advisory Registration † Jim brings significant financial services experience along with the investment management industry’s best thinking and best practices to his role as Chief Investment Officer of Wealth Enhancement Advisory Services. Throughout his professional career, Jim’s philosophy on investing has centered on providing clients with...Read More