Q&A: When is it time to take the money and run to a new investment advisor?

Dear Liz: My wife and I are in our early 30s. She has a stock portfolio that has positions in 20 blue chip stocks purchased primarily in the last 20 years. It was set up by her family and managed by a family friend at a large brokerage. Recently, the family friend retired and transitioned the portfolio to a new team at this brokerage. They basically told us that our portfolio underperformed and only saw an average of 3% growth per year over the last 20 years.

The new brokerage team is recommending we gradually transition our 20 positions into a portfolio of 300 stocks that will mirror an index. They would harvest any tax losses to offset the capital gains tax that would otherwise be due. They will charge a 1% fee, and after several years, we will probably have a portfolio that is entirely small positions in a huge number of companies.

My gut reaction was that if they want to mirror an index, why not just buy an index fund with cash freed up from tax-loss harvesting? My wife really feels most comfortable doing whatever her parents recommend and is overwhelmed by what I call advanced investing but wants us to make this decision together.

Answer: If your wife is being charged a 1% annual fee, she should be getting a heck of a lot more than investment management. One percent is the typical fee charged by comprehensive financial planners who offer a wide array of services including retirement, tax, investment, insurance and estate planning. If her portfolio is more than $1 million, the fee probably would be even lower.

Another, larger problem is that the new team of stockbrokers probably does not have a fiduciary duty to your wife. In other words, they’re allowed to recommend a course of action that is more profitable for them, even if there are better-performing and less-expensive options available. That, more than anything else, should be motivating her to find a new advisor who is willing to be a fiduciary.

You can help in a number of ways, starting with the advisor search. The National Assn. of Personal Financial Advisors, the XY Planning Network and the Garrett Planning Network all represent fee-only planners and can offer referrals.

You also can encourage your wife to educate herself about investing, since (as you know) it’s not rocket science and she needs to know the basics to responsibly handle her money. Relying on her family’s influence has left her with an undiversified, underperforming portfolio — and delivered her into the hands of people who probably don’t have her best interests at heart. It’s time to grow up and take charge.

Finally, you can stop referring to it as “our” portfolio. It’s lovely that she wants to share it with you, but the money is hers and she needs to take ownership.

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