Imagine a medical industry with low barriers to entry, where everyone involved in almost any capacity is equally categorized in specialty and expertise. For more clarity, picture yourself arriving in an emergency room where the doctors are indistinguishable from hospital administrators and registered nurses. In my opinion, these analogies are not far from the truth in the financial industry. Bankers, attorneys, CPAs and many others hold themselves out as financial advisors, making it hard for consumers to make informed decisions.

As a result, many people end up underserved or receiving the wrong guidance. Understanding the financial industry and potential pitfalls may help you select the right financial advisor for you and your family.

Investor Beware: Potential Conflicts of Interest Remain

Over the last 20 years, titles like stockbroker and salesmen have become extinct. For most in the industry, these titles tend to carry a history of self-service viewed unfavorably by the public. Ironically, despite new names, many of the conflicts of interests still remain. That’s right, many brokers and salesmen still operate within the traditional sales centric model, where companies produce products, hire salespeople—now named advisors or planners—and provide incentives for product sales/distribution. In a system designed to reward selling instead of unbiased advice, investors have every reason to be suspect.

Generally, advisor compensation is paid in three ways: commissions, fee only or a combination of fees and commissions. Regardless of the type of advisor you choose, there is no one “correct” form of compensation. Your advisor should help you choose the type of compensation plan that’s most appropriate for you and review the total fees that will be paid under each method. Though be aware, the lack of transparency in the industry may run contrary to your accumulation of wealth.

You should select an advisor that takes time to educate you in personal finance, the markets and the long-term benefits of low-cost, tax-efficient investments.

Advisors Should Be Educators

You should select an advisor that takes time to educate you in personal finance, the markets and the long-term benefits of low-cost, tax-efficient investments. You should be constantly learning and feeling more confident about your finances. A good advisor will help you understand reality, plan accordingly, implement a balanced and systematic investment program and enjoy life’s journey.

Advisors Are Not Created Equal

In the realm of finance licenses, credentials and experience matter. Most advisors are required to have federal and state securities licenses. They obtain these license by passing examinations that are moderately difficult—so entry barriers are low—in my opinion. Separate exams are required for selling insurance products, providing investment advice and performing certain security transactions. If not properly licensed, the investment recommendations you receive may be limited and may not be in your best interest.

Credentials

There are more designations in financial services than most industries. The chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation issued by the CFA Institute is the gold standard for investment analysis and money management. It is recognized worldwide and is by far one of the most difficult designations to obtain. The CFA Institute requires members to adhere to a code of ethics and standards of professional conduct, which states that members shall place the interest of the client ahead of their own. While there are other credentials, in my opinion, the CFA credential should be most sought after if you’re looking for investment recommendations and portfolio management.

“If history has taught us one thing, we should expect the unexpected”

Specialty

Many advisors begin their careers working with large insurance companies, accounting firms, banks and brokerage firms, then gravitate towards a specialty. You should know your advisors specialty or primary area of interest. Unfortunately, specialties like insurance, stocks, bonds and retirement plans are not often disclosed or easy to identify. Ask about their typical client, the make-up of their business and work history, so you gain an understanding of the products, investmentsand management style you are likely to receive. Regardless of specialty, a good advisor should always be willing to bring in experts as needed to provide quality client services.

Experience is important. The value of a seasoned professional should never be underestimated. If history has taught us one thing, we should expect the unexpected. If you’re rafting down turbulent waters or a passenger on a rough flight, it’s comforting to have an expert provide direction for successful navigation.

Over the years, I’ve helped many clients achieve their goals and invest successfully. I’ve also made my share of mistakes and have learned valuable lessons. Nowadays, I spend most of my time at the office helping existing clients, not out chasing new business. From the experiences gained through a career in money management, I have plenty of financial wisdom to share.

In 2002, I left the big-box firms and started AC Financial, an independent fee-based investment and wealth management company, located in San Antonio, Texas. Through LPL Financial, the nation’s largest independent broker/dealer, we offer clients access to a diverse set of resources and investment alternatives. Our boutique business is centered on treating clients as we would expect to be treated, providing investment recommendations that we own or are willing to own ourselves and providing advice that is useful and purposeful.

For more information call 210.231.0456 or visit www.myacinvestments.com. AC Financial is located at 242 W. Sunset Road, Suite 101 in San Antonio, TX 78209.