Last September, Equifax announced that the had been compromised. The company, one of the three main credit reporting bureaus, disclosed that consumer information including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even partial driver’s license information had been taken.
Most people (rightfully) felt outraged at this data breach. But what about other individuals or firms that possess information on you? Consider your financial adviser. In addition to the information that Equifax compromised, they have notes on private discussions and potential inheritances, estate planning wishes, and much more.
Don’t assume that every adviser has your information adequately protected. Many firms give advisers guidelines and set expectations, but in my experience there are plenty of advisers whose phone or laptop could easily be compromised.
Ask your adviser about these two key areas affecting the safety of your information.
Not every adviser will be a technology egghead like me, but you should still expect caution be taken with your information. A good security plan would include (what I use in parentheses):
- Data backups that encrypt information BEFORE transmission across the Internet (iDrive);
- Operating systems and applications automatically kept up to date;
- Device security (like PIN codes and fingerprint recognition) added to their phones;
- Encryption added to mobile devices and any other computers storing or accessing your information (VeraCrypt);
- Use of a password protection app to ensure secure passwords are used and not written down (LastPass); and
- Only sending sensitive information via a secure email system (SendInc).
It does not matter how technically secure your data remains if it sits exposed on a messy desk. Forms, notes, and other paperwork could be swiped by unauthorized “visitors” or cleaning crews. Unlocked filing cabinets are not much better. Sticky notes on monitors with passwords written down still happen. The next time you visit your adviser, evaluate their personal space and office environment.
By maintaining a completely paperless environment, I eliminated this risk. Important information is securely scanned and originals shredded. No filing cabinets filled with your data. Having a home office helps too. The only unexpected visit I occasionally receive is from a 6 1/2 year old, and he does not strike me as having ulterior motives.
No system is foolproof, but if your adviser does not handle your sensitive information with care, I’d be careful working with them.