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1. How have my investments actually performed? It’s scary to watch the Dow drop by more than 700 points in one day. But how does that compare with your own investments? “To some extent, everyone is seeing market losses right now,” says John Gannon, senior vice president of investor education for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). “But it’s really an important time to open your account statements and take a look at them and benchmark your performance.”
Ask your financial adviser to compare the performance of your investments to relevant indexes or to other funds with similar investing strategies — focusing on the past few months and years, not the day-to-day gyrations.
Also ask about the performance of your overall portfolio, focusing on the past one, three and five years. “I really feel that no financial-planning client or investment advisory client should be doing as badly as the markets; that is, if the broad market is down 25%, then they should be down no more than 20% and probably less,” says Bob Veres, publisher of Inside Information, a well-respected newsletter for financial planners.
2. How do my investments match my time frame and goals? One of the biggest benefits of working with a financial planner is that he or she should pick investments within the context of your overall financial plan — dividing your savings into several sections and selecting the investments for each based on your time frame and goals.
And ask about the adviser’s strategy for meeting your medium-term goals.
3. What adjustments are you making because of this market? “A good adviser will have put a plan in place that expects horrible times in the markets,” says Daniel Moisand, a certified financial planner in Melbourne, Fla., and chairman of the Certified Financial Planner Board’s disciplinary and ethics commission.
The adviser shouldn’t make rash decisions during a market downturn, especially if you’ve been well-diversified and your investments match your time frame and goals. “Any adviser who says you should sell everything during the capitulation period of a bear market is not somebody I would want to work with,” Veres says.
4. How much am I paying for guarantees? Some “advisers” may offer to eliminate future worries by selling a product promising big guarantees. “I would be highly skeptical of any product pitches that purport to have severed the relationship between risk and reward,” says Moisand.
5. How do you plan to keep me updated and answer questions? You can learn a lot about your financial planner during this crisis — not just how he or she manages your investments, but how well the adviser explains the situation and what action you should take, answers your questions and makes you feel more comfortable. “This is probably the time when you need your financial professional more than at any other time,” says Gannon.
And your adviser should be giving you the attention you deserve now.
If you haven’t been satisfied with your planner’s performance, see In Search of Good Advice for help finding a new one.