Opinion: Should you fire your financial adviser? Not if you’re angry about stock losses.

Opinion: Should you fire your financial adviser? Not if you’re angry about stock losses.

Nobody fires their financial adviser when the stock market is up. But when times get tough, no adviser does their job well enough.

Consumers are as fickle over the managers of their money as the owners of pro sports teams are about the coaches they employ, but the big difference is that in sports there is always a winning team whereas a bad market can make everyone a loser.

Warren Buffett has famously said that “only when the tide goes out do you learn who has been swimming naked.” In the world of consumer-adviser relationships, when the tide runs out, the customer sees issues with the adviser without recognizing the same in themselves. It’s no surprise that consumers frustrated with big losses in the market last year are considering taking it out on advisers now.

The more people hear stories about people being dissatisfied with brokers and planners, the more they are likely to raise their hand and think “Me too.”

That doesn’t make firing your adviser the right move, particularly when disappointment is tinged by a bad year.

Look beyond the expected discomfort consumers had with full-service investment advisers over the market’s decline and the recently released J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Full-Service Investor Satisfaction Study shows two disconnects:

1)      Consumers have unrealistic expectations of what an adviser can achieve when markets are troubled.

2)      Consumers aren’t getting what they pay for — and aren’t speaking up about it — when working with planners and wealth managers.

I’ve written two books on hiring and working with financial advisers, and I can assure you that if the only reason you’re going to a financial planner is to build a diversified portfolio of mutual funds, you can replace the adviser with some software or a web-based platform that’ll cost you no more than a few bucks per month.

For average investors, picking the investments is the easy part. A few diversified funds covering stocks and bonds in an age-appropriate way does the trick; let it ride.

The hard part is having the emotional discipline to stick with the plan, even one that defaults to “Save as much as I can in a target-date fund.”

The adviser’s job is to plot a course from where you are to where you want to be, and to keep you moving confidently in the right direction, even when the market throws a detour into your path.

If you’re upset with your adviser and your portfolio after 2022 and you are thinking of making a change to either, there’s an emotional discipline/fortitude problem.

That’s not about the market, it’s about you and your relationship with the adviser.

A recently issued report from investment researcher Morningstar, titled “Why do Investors Fire Their Financial Advisor,” found that bad financial relationships tend to come from a mismatch of expectations when the adviser is hired, insufficient focus on the personal parts of personal finance, and the counselor struggling to demonstrate/communicate the value they provide.

“People don’t expect more either because they don’t care or they don’t expect more because they don’t know,” said Tom Rieman, head of wealth solutions at J.D. Power, during a recent interview on my podcast, “Money Life with Chuck Jaffe.”

Those who don’t care, Rieman explained, likely started the planning process with “I just want to roll over my 401k” or “I just want to purchase insurance,” and never thought about real financial planning.

For people hiring advisers, the adviser helps make financial and life transitions from spender-saver to investor, then wealth accumulator and ultimately to the desired retirement lifestyle.

“What have you done for me lately” is the advisory equivalent of fast food.

Any time a consumer’s relationship with their adviser is rocky, it warrants a review. (Note: I said “rocky,” because there is never a reason to stick with a broker, planner or adviser of any stripe with whom you would say you have a “bad’ relationship.)

You either work to fix and improve it, or you find someone better. You owe that to yourself and your hard-earned money.

But note that the process starts by looking in the mirror.

You shouldn’t expect to reach your goals by looking for someone who can ease your nerves in current market conditions, but rather should be looking for someone whose approach, demeanor and actions give you the confidence to stick with the plan through rising interest rates, high inflation, a banking crisis, geopolitical concerns, market swings and whatever unexpected wild cards the market and economy dish out.

Paraphrasing from Brian Portnoy, author of “The Geometry of Wealth”: You want an adviser who will help you “connect and utilize [your] wealth to find a life of meaning and contentment.”

This requires a lot more than picking good funds and stocks, or having a portfolio that performs within a wide band of vague expectations.

Bad years test that. If you are getting the right kind of service, you can be disappointed with the market, but confident in your counselor. If you’re upset over an adviser’s lousy performance — and the market’s performance is a small part of your disappointment — it might be the right time to make a change.

More: Investors are mad as hell at advisers, and it’s not just market performance that’s to blame

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