Sep 11, 2013

Florida residents, watch our for meaningless "senior" designations when choosing financial advisor

Florida residents looking for a financial professional should know that all those letters after the names of financial advisors do not guarantee good advice. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many letter designations do not necessarily reflect superior - or any - training, education or experience. Like a spoonful of alphabet soup, the letters may not spell anything meaningful. 

The letter "s" - for "senior" - seems to have a particular place of honor in many designations. Why seniors? Well, as Willie Sutton replied when he was asked why he robs banks: "That's where the money is." According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the largest independent regulator for security firms, older people are indeed more likely to retain a financial advisor who has the word "senior" in his/her designation. Unfortunately, at least 35% of those designations are phony, says Jack Waymire, founder of an advisor-rating site called Paladin Registry. The designations are “designed to trick seniors into believing advisers are more knowledgeable than they really are,” he says.

That is not to say that all credentials are phony or meaningless. Some really do reflect substantive training and experience. To make sure of that, you have to do your homework. Check out the Investor Watchdog website that allows you to check out how rigorous (or ridiculous) the requirements are for any particular designation. Also visit the website of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, where you can look up any financial advisor's credentials and disciplinary history. 

I don't want to scare you off all financial advisors. Everyone, particularly those approaching or in retirement, would do well to seek professional advice. Just don't fall for the alphabet soup approach. You've worked and saved too hard to entrust your funds and security to just anyone. In skepticism there is safety.

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