The financial industry is adept at keeping its customers in the dark about what they are spending.
There are plenty of regulations in place that are supposed to make such costs transparent, but most of the disclosures are in small print and peppered with legal terms.
I'm not suggesting that all fees and charges are unfair. In fact, decades of consumer advocacy have reduced the number and types of tricks brokers, financial advisors, and money managers once used to fleece their clients.
But there are still things to watch out for...
Most of them will charge you a fee for financial advice. Some will also collect commissions on any transactions.
One of the biggest problems with money managers and financial advisors is that they have a predisposition for mutual funds. They like mutual funds because they are easy. But as you know, mutual funds are very expensive.
And that's not all... With a money manager, you are likely paying other fees too. My colleague Tim has a good friend with a UBS-managed account. Tim studied the fine print and this is what he found:
-- A 1% annual fee on the portfolio paid to the manager
-- An average 1.44% annual fee on the 15-20 mutual funds the manager had put his friend into.
The fine print showed other fees that were impossible to decipher:
-- Omnibus Processing Fees
-- Trailers and 12-b Fees
-- Networking Fees
-- Finders Fees
-- Account Services Fees for Affiliated Fund
-- Revenue Sharing Payments
So Tim's friend is paying 2.44% in disclosed fees -- and he may be paying even more if you consider the hidden or hard-to-decipher fees.
There is an argument to be made that fee-only financial advisors and/or money managers are better because you don't have to pay transactions costs. This is not necessarily true. Your account could be billed for certain transaction costs separately. The money manager doesn't receive this fee, but you pay it.
The only way to know what you are paying a financial advisor and/or money manager is to write them a letter asking them to disclose all costs clearly and fully.
If you use a money manager or financial advisor, you should expect him to be completely forthcoming and transparent about what you are paying. If you aren't sure, the first step is to ask him in writing, "Please send me a clear and comprehensive account of all charges, fees, commissions, and other costs I am paying for your service."
And ask him to copy his manager on that message.
If you are ever told, "There is no commission on a purchase," you are speaking to a liar. It may be true that no actual commissions (as defined by the industry) are being charged, but you can be sure that there are other charges, either embedded in the transaction or put through to you as "management fees."
As with stock brokers, there are some situations in which you may be happy to pay the fees they are charging. And there are certainly financial advisors and money managers who are smart and caring and do a good job.
But you need to know exactly what the costs are -- immediately and over time.
Then, and only then, can you decide if these sorts of services are good for you.