When did you last take a close look at your investment account statements, have a meaningful discussion with your financial advisor or broker, or reassess your investment goals and time horizon due to changing circumstances or major life events?
These questions often slip our minds as we navigate our busy lives and process a constant influx of information. But if you stop and think about it, beyond tending to our health, our financial well-being should be a priority for most of us. Whether you’re a young adult starting out, preparing for retirement, or already retired, having a sound financial plan and an experienced team to help implement it is vital.
This article isn’t about specific investment recommendations, and we don’t provide investment advice. Instead, we offer practical tips and steps to initiate the safeguarding of your investments for the future.
Most of us have at least one if not several, investment accounts. These may include individual retirement accounts (IRAs), ROTH-IRAs, employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, or other secure vehicles for preserving your assets. In each case, the financial institution safeguarding your accounts will require specific information from you, such as your employment status, income level, and investment experience. Most importantly, they will inquire about your investment objectives, risk tolerance, and investment time. If your financial professional hasn’t asked for this information or discussed your goals with you, it’s time to consider a change and find a new advisor. Their primary role is to ensure that any investment recommendations align with your goals and don’t expose you to excessive or unwanted financial risk.
It’s important to understand that all investments involve some degree of risk. Like rating your pain level at a doctor’s office, you should assess your investment risk tolerance. How much can you afford to lose before it significantly impacts your financial stability? If you find that you cannot put your money at risk without facing severe financial hardship, you should either refrain from investing altogether or opt for very safe and reliable investments, such as Treasury bonds, insured bank certificates of deposit, or money market accounts. Even though these relatively secure investments carry some degree of risk, they protect you from substantial losses due to market volatility or underperforming stocks.
Next, consider who you are working with as your investment advisor or broker. Not all financial professionals are the same. You should research your advisor’s background, employment history, and regulatory record. Fortunately, free resources are available to help you obtain this information. If you’re looking for information on a securities representative (e.g., a stock or bond broker), visit https://brokercheck.finra.org/ to access a comprehensive report on your broker and their affiliated firm. If you need information on a registered investment adviser, visit https://adviserinfo.sec.gov to view and download a report on the adviser or their firm, similar to Broker Check for securities brokers and brokerage firms.
If the report reveals any negative information about your financial professional, such as customer complaints or regulatory actions, discuss the matter with them and ask for an explanation. If you’re uncomfortable with their response, it may be time to consider a new financial advisor.
Additionally, consider whether your financial professional holds the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation. This certification is a mark of excellence in the financial planning industry, conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. To attain this designation, individuals must meet four categories of requirements: education, examination, experience, and ethics. While the CFP designation is a recognized standard in the field, many excellent financial advisors may not hold it, so it should not be the sole determinant of your relationship.
Lastly, there’s no substitute for personal involvement in the investment process. Financial firms typically send periodic statements, often on a monthly or quarterly basis for inactive accounts. These statements are frequently delivered electronically via email. Regardless of how or when you receive them, it’s crucial to regularly review your account statements. Some might find these statements complex, confusing, or intimidating and may avoid reading them. However, even if you’re one of those investors, at the very least, review the summary pages found at the beginning of your statement to assess your total balance and any changes from the previous statement. If there’s a significant change from your last statement that you didn’t discuss with your financial advisor, this could be a warning sign that something is amiss. In such cases, reach out to your advisor or their firm to address the issue promptly.
These tips represent only a portion of the insights regarding your rights and responsibilities as an investor. It’s important to understand that investing is a collaborative endeavor, and even if you don’t possess extensive knowledge of the subject, your role remains pivotal in the process. The decisions you make alongside your professional advisor can significantly impact your financial future. If you have any inquiries about your investment experience, it’s advisable to consider seeking advice from seasoned securities attorneys, such as those at Becker.