Not all advisers can offer the best options for you. Some have company products to sell. Some only have access to a limited number of options. How can you spot them?

Advisers in Captivity


Many advisers affiliate with one large company (called “career” or “captive” advisers). These companies have brand recognition, ad budgets, and impressive offices. If you have seen a TV commercial for a company, odds are they fit in this category.

Advisers with these firms often get incentives for selling their company’s products. More expensive proprietary products pay for those expenses.

Many companies require a minimum level of sales “production”. Some provide perks to advisers for reaching sales goals. Others limit access to certain products or make it more difficult to use a product outside of their firm.


What Are They Hiding?

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This simplifies the adviser/client relationship because there are no competing interests involved.

Declaration of Independence


My independence as a financial planner levels the playing field for you. With only my clients paying me, no recommendation creates a financial incentive. I can help select the best options for you, regardless of the company offering the right solution.

When choosing an adviser, you should always know how they get paid. Do they get commissions from selling you financial products? Does anything limit their ability to offer financial products or solutions?


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No Experience Necessary


Many people use the title “financial adviser”. Some stockbrokers executing trades all day use it. Insurance agents may use the title because “insurance salesman” sends many people running. And some comprehensive financial planners use the term as well. (Nail technicians require more training than someone using the term “financial advisor”. Ouch.)

For each job, the amount and type of training required varies a great deal. So “financial adviser” indicates nothing about an adviser’s level of experience or knowledge.


The Certified Financial Planner™


Financial advisers holding the CFP® designation have completed extensive training. We meet experience requirements and submit to rigorous ethical standards. It takes long hours to complete the 6 required courses. Only 50% pass the (at the time, grueling two day 10-hour) test. Approximately 10%-20% of financial advisers hold this designation. Consider choosing an adviser with the CFP® designation.

Pay attention! Some CFP® professionals work as captive employees of large firms. Conflicts can exist between their employer and their CFP® code of conduct. This can hinder the adviser’s ability to work in your best interest.




“What am I paying and for what?” sounds like a simple question. But many people find their adviser dancing around the issue. The most common methods of compensation add many conflicts. Also, costs act like termites: you may not see them but they can still do severe damage.

Hidden Commissions


It may seem like commissioned-based advisers provide advice for little or no cost. Only if you buy products from them will they get paid. How could choosing an adviser using this model work to your disadvantage?


Different products and companies pay differing levels of sales commissions. Minimum quotas on certain products or “production” can create conflicting incentives. Often it’s not a personal failing of the advisor, but they are set up to fall prey to the external influences!

Disproportionate Fees

Mutual fund sales commissions often cost 3%-5% of the investment when you buy them. The ongoing expenses are often 0.50%-1% every year. Thus, a $500k transfer could cost you up to $25,000! Brokerages and mutual fund companies reward the salesperson for “making the sale”. Little financial incentive exists for on-going support.

Legal Complications

Did you know that a “broker” and an “investment adviser” are two different roles under the law? A broker has a legal duty to the broker-dealer they work for, not the client. By law an investment adviser must put the client’s interests ahead of his own. To learn more, Google “financial fiduciary standard”.

Asset Fee Conflicts


Many advisors disclose their advisory (“Assets Under Management”) fees as a small percentage. The argument for it is that if the value of your account goes up, then the adviser benefits. If the value drops, then the adviser shares the pain. Why would this model cause problems?

Impact Decisions

Several important decisions at retirement affect the size of your nest egg. Should you pay off your home? Does it make sense to exchange assets for more guaranteed income? What’s the best choice for your company pension? Your decisions could change your account balance and reduce the adviser’s compensation!

Ignore Complexity

Let’s compare two clients. Client A has a straightforward financial situation. Client B deals with inheritances, complicated family dynamics, and estate planning issues. Why charge them the same amount for advice only because they have the same account balance?

Penalize Wealthier Clients

Why should a client with $5 million pay so much more than a client with $1 million? More money does create some extra complexities. The complexities are not enough to justify such a price difference. Does your doctor charge you based on the value of your home?

Who is Flying Your Plane?

If you are flying to Hawaii, would you prefer a pilot or a travel agent in the cockpit? A travel agent can sell you a ticket to Hawaii and wish you a great trip, but that this the end of their job. A pilot’s knowledge and experience help her make adjustments when the unexpected happens. They get you to Hawaii safe and sound.


My industry has many “travel agents” disguised as pilots. They sell you their tickets/products but don’t guide your plane to your destination. Many people work with advisers like this without ever knowing the difference. A true “financial pilot” adds tremendous value by guiding you from take-off (growing assets) to landing (spending your savings). And throughout the flight, they keep proper protections in place to keep your plan safe.

The Solution: Fixed Fees


Level, fixed fees can be set based on the complexity of your situation, not the dollars in your account. You can get advice on topics that don’t involve product sales (like Social Security).

On Your Side

A fixed fee eliminates any incentive to suggest anything but the best solution for you. Nobody pays the adviser other than the client.

Straightforward Fees

A flat fee gives you a known and non-variable cost to your advice. No hidden fees, no surprises, no meter running with hourly charges. Only continuing comprehensive planning AND investment advice.

Save Money

A flat fee and low expense investments can be much less expensive than an AUM fee. Many clients see their annual costs cut by 50% or more! Choosing an adviser using this pricing model could make a big difference in the savings staying in your accounts.

How Much Difference Can This Make?


Many Many Certified Financial Planner professionals charge 1%+ of your asset value. They also often use costly mutual funds.

Over 20 years, the difference between this fee and a fixed fee can be significant! In this case a $2,000,000 portfolio would forgo $2 million more in profits. That comes from the extra $900,000 paid in fees to the median AUM adviser, and the loss of growth from that money.

Assuming 8% annual gross return, 1% AUM advisory fee deducted quarterly, and 0.75% mutual fund expense ratios. III Financial using $2500/quarter fee, increasing $250/quarter every 2 years, and 0.2% fund expense ratios.


I’m determined to help widowed women navigate their finances. My only question is, will it be yours?