Advice-Only dawned on me when I had a problem with my air conditioner. Even though the thermostat was switched to OFF, the compressor outside continued running. I noticed the problem when I heard the noise outside the window. I didn’t know how long it ran continuously before I noticed, or how much electricity was wasted. I had to turn it off from the breaker panel.
I contacted an HVAC repair service to get it fixed. HVAC repair was in high demand in the summer. In addition to giving me how much he charged for a service call, the HVAC guy also told me I could just bang on the air conditioner box to make it stop. After I switched on the breaker in the panel, it magically stopped with just one bang, just as the HVAC guy said it would. After that, it started and stopped following the thermostat. Problem solved.
The HVAC guy told me the bang worked because a part called the contactor got stuck to the ON position due to age or maybe just dirt. I had never heard that term before but I was able to buy a new contactor from Home Depot for only $12. Replacing the contactor only required taking off some screws. For someone who never opened an air conditioner before, it took me only 15 minutes. Easy.
The most important piece here was the HVAC guy’s knowledge and experience. Fixing it was trivial once you knew what caused the problem. It would be silly for him to spend an hour driving to and from my place and five seconds giving it one bang or five minutes replacing the faulty part. Another service person would probably do just that in order to justify the fee. If the service person just fixed it, I wouldn’t know how they did it. If the same problem happens in the future I would have to call for service again.
Some HVAC services sell an annual maintenance contract. You can just get annual maintenance if you want to treat the air conditioner as a black box. The air conditioner will run. You won’t have to think about it, ever. This is how some people treat their money. They outsource it to someone to manage so they don’t have to think about it, ever.
From Commission to Fee-Only
Extending the same you-just-do-it-for-me attitude to money is very dangerous because so many commissioned salespeople are out there. They can sell you expensive life insurance, fixed indexed annuities, load funds, non-traded REITs, and all kinds of junk (see a long list of the bad and the ugly). That’s why you see the recommendation of going with a fee-only advisor who acts as a fiduciary. These fee-only advisors typically manage your money for a percentage of the asset value.
It works, sort of, except you are paying a very high price for the low-value part — the administrative chores — while not getting much of the most valuable part — the advice. When you see a doctor, the doctor is paid for his or her advice. Once the doctor tells you what pills to take, you can easily take the pills yourself. Imagine how expensive it would be if the doctor also has to come over every day to feed you pills!
Bundling management with advice makes it very expensive. Advisors bundle management to make it appear they are doing a lot of work for you. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to justify their fee. You would have a heart attack if your doctor charges $10,000 every year for a physical.
The rise of target date funds and robo-advisors exposed the fact that managing a portfolio costs very little with automation. If you’re looking for distributing your new cash into multiple funds, rebalancing, tax-loss harvesting, or withdrawing from your portfolio, a robo-advisor does it efficiently. The problem is it’s backward. Having a computer spit out an allocation from answers to just a few questions hardly counts as advice. There’s so much more in advice than a model allocation. The robo-advisors really only take away the administrative chores.
Robo-advisors have their place but you are missing the most valuable part.
From Fee-Only To Advice-Only
Fee-only and fiduciary are good but the fee can still be very expensive. Many fee-only advisors offer advice only as an enticement to sell investment management. A doctor who insists on coming over to feed you pills is still acting in your best interest (to make sure you take the right pills on time). It’s the way to go for people who have a lot of money to burn. It’s not an efficient use of money for the vast majority.
What most people really need is advice-only, not just fee-only. Advice-only means you only pay the advisor for advice. It isolates the most valuable part of managing one’s finances. You pay for advice when you need it, just like seeing a doctor.
Once you get the advice on what to do, doing it is trivial. You can do it yourself online or through customer service at your online broker (Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, …). You are already paying for the broker’s computer systems and customer service. You might as well use them.
If you’d like to be more hands-off and you don’t mind paying a bit extra for convenience, you can move your money to somewhere that specializes in automation. For example, at M1 Finance you can set up your advisor’s recommendation as a “pie” and buy the whole thing in one shot. It will be rebalanced automatically.
Separating advice from management gives you the best of both worlds. You can focus on getting the best advice at a price most reasonable to you, similar to how you choose a doctor. You can be sure the advice isn’t conflicted because what you buy isn’t linked to the advisor at all. There is no extra cost if you’d like to handle the management yourself, akin to taking meds on your own. If you prefer automation, you can choose the best place for automation based on the services offered. You don’t have to tie automation with advice from a computer.
I still believe the average investor should have a financial advisor. Only that the advisor should be advice-only. It’s the best model for what people really need and want, without the extra baggage of expensive management.
Fee-only is no longer enough. Go with advice-only.
Advisors operating under the Advice-Only model are not easy to find. The advisor marketplace is inundated by all other advisors who want to sell you expensive products or manage your money for a big fee year after year. If you just go to well-known places or get names from acquaintances, you will almost certainly land at someone who is not Advice-Only. It’ll cost you a lot of money.
I scoured the Internet to look for Advice-Only advisors for four years (and I continue to do so today). I found about 100 Advice-Only financial advisors. I put them in the Advice-Only Directory. You’ll save a lot of time when you use the Advice-Only Directory.