How PWM really works (part 4): Misconceptions, how we invest, choosing a broker, and my Q&A
Hey everyone, this is way overdue, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway. For my 4th and final blog on Part 1: Past, Present, Future, and $$$ Part 2: Breaking In, Staying In, and Getting Out Part 3: PB v. PWM, lifestyle, hours, day in the life What I’ll try to do is list out several of the misconceptions about advisors and then comment on each one of them. But first, a caveat. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are legally allowed to give financial advice, but it doesn’t mean they’re any good. If I had to guess, only about 10% of those people are any good (more on that later), and the rest...not so much., I wanted to go over several misconceptions about the way I see it, how we invest clients’ money, how to choose a broker, and conclude with a Q&A. I know they’re a bit older, but check out the first 3 parts of my blog here:
I mention this because what I’m going to say here only applies to that top 10% of brokers, there are tons of bad apples out there, and I’ll do my best to help you identify those people. Additionally, what I’m going to say probably will make the most sense to millionaires (7- low 8 figures, I don’t have any UHNW clients, they’re few and far between in my neck of the woods). These are people who have enough money to live comfortably, but aren’t buying yachts and original Picassos, if you follow that.adds no value Wow, this is the elephant in the room. I could easily write an entire blog on this but I don’t want to beat a dead horse. Here’s my take on this: adds value for the right people. You can quibble all day long about beating the market in returns, but I’ll tell you from experience that most people don’t give a shit about beating the S&P500, and regardless of how rational you think that is, it’s the truth. The easiest way I can explain what we do is like an endowment or a pension fund. We manage around a spending policy (after all, what’s the point of having money if you can’t enjoy it?!), which is different from absolute return. More on how we invest later, but the value add is that for people who are spending their money, that calls for a different type of investment management than someone who’s running a deep value LS fund. Additionally, the good guys will address things like estate planning, tax planning, equity comp issues, liability planning, insurance planning, family governance issues (talking to kids about money), and other goals (education, wedding, retirement, etc.). Most people do not have the mental capacity to stay on top of all of those issues and hold down a full time job, so that’s where a good broker comes in handy. This may not mean much for 22 year old 1st years in IB, but when you’re 45, have 2 kids, are travelling 4 days a week and your down time is spent with wife and kids, the last thing you want to do is read 10 pounds of research on global markets, new stock option tax rulings, and the like. Furthermore, when you’re retired, most people actually want to enjoy their life’s earnings and not take on the full time job of managing them. Finally, there’s a tremendous psychological benefit for people. I’m telling you from experience, and argue with me all you want, but the wealthiest people in the world will often turn to chicken little if their investments take a bad turn. Good brokers will act like a coach to them during those bad times. For example, if you thought the recent 10% decline was the beginning of perennially lower equity markets and put all of your money in gold, grain, and in the mattress, you clearly don’t have a good broker. Same thing with 2008, 2001, and so on and so on. The biggest enemy of the individual investor is himself, and we help temper those emotions by simply talking to clients during difficult times. If you have a wealthy family, it’s easy to make it in the business This one is a bit tricky, because so much depends on circumstances. If your family is worth a lot (say >5mm), you may think you can simply get your dad and his golf buddies as clients and make it in the business, but it’s not that simple. Your dad will have a hard time saying no, but I doubt he’ll turn it over 100% to you. His friends?! Fuggedaboudit. They likely already have a broker they’ve worked with for decades, and what rational person would turn over millions to a 22 year old guy who’s never seen a bear market? I know 2 guys who had the golden ticket so to speak, 1 had 20mm from family, the other had 15mm. Over 5 years later, their AUM hasn’t moved. Good advisors have to be focused on growth. Sure, that initial ticket is good on day 1, but going forward, you need to have a growth strategy in order to really make rain in this business. Those commercials Ahh, those commercials. , , Principal, they’re all guilty. They show people opening ballet studios, buying classic Le Mans racers, vacationing in the Seychelles, and basically doing whatever they want. Here’s the deal: no amount of financial planning can get you there. You need to have a high paying job and save well in order to get a big enough nest egg to do those things. Brokers are not magicians, we manage pools of assets, we don’t create assets. If you want to achieve those things in life, save your bonuses, invest in stocks when you’re in your early working years, and call on a guy around age 40 when your situation gets a little more complicated. How we invest money First, we have a menu of best ideas. These range across all asset classes: equities, fixed, and alternatives and could be individual securities or money managers. The ingredients will be the same for just about every client, but the portfolios are all a little different. I said earlier we manage around a spending policy. What that means is that every client we have has spending needs from their portfolio, and it’s our job to generate that income, preserve the principal amount (adjusted for inflation), and try to pick up a couple percentage points of return for long term growth. There are many ways of doing this so I won’t go into the mechanics here, but you can clearly see that someone with $5mm who needs to spend $200k per year needs to have their money managed differently than someone who has $500k and simply wants to outperform the S&P500. And the math makes sense too. If your portfolio is in 100% stocks and you’re spending 5% per year from it and 2008 happens, you’re withdrawing a greater percentage of the principal amount during that time, and therefore you may suffer a permanent impairment of capital. You’re selling low to fund your lifestyle, so you can see why it’s important to be diversified and therefore have a less volatile portfolio than the overall stock market. On the other side of that, if you’re 100% bonds and living off the interest, you’re getting no inflation protection or long term growth, so while the capital impairment isn’t as immediate, it’s a long term drag on performance, and eventually you’ll be withdrawing greater and greater percentages of your net worth to fund your lifestyle, shrinking your overall nest egg. How to choose a broker First things first, brokercheck. Just google the guy’s name with the phrase “brokercheck” afterwards and you’ll find his record on FINRA. This will include years of experience, licenses, prior firms, etc. Things to look out for are disclosure events, but those are not a red flag always. FINRA is obligated to report every customer complaint, even if it was determined the broker was not at fault, so read through their report. If they’ve gotten some complaints, ask about them. If they’ve moved firms a bunch, ask about that. Anyone who’s been at their entire career will have tons and tons of firm names, even if they’ve never actually moved, but you won’t know unless you ask. Ok, now a list of stuff to ask, there’s no right or wrong answer, your gut will be a good guide. If you have specific questions, ask them in the comments.
- Ask about their investment philosophy: are they value, growth, technician, what?
- Ask how they invest their own money: will they invest in the same things they’re recommending for you? If not, why?
- Ask about their services: in my opinion, every good broker has a clearly articulated description of their service offering to clients
- Ask about their typical client: net worth, age, goals, etc.: will you be a top tier client or a bottom of the barrel person who gets no attention?
- Ask about succession planning: if they’re similar in age to you, who takes over after they retire?
- How much does it cost? Why? What's the value I'm getting with this fee?
This should whet your appetites. And now, since I’m such a glutton for punishment, I’ll make this my AMA. Only off limit questions are those that would reveal my identity, anything else is up for grabs, fire away! Cheers, Brofessor