Will the two camps of financial advisors ever get along?
My blind date's name was Paula. Mutual friends knew that she and I were both recently divorced. And they knew that we were both somehow in the world of finance. So they figured we'd hit it off.
What the heck. After my last date with the gym teacher-90 minutes on the finer points of field hockey and the virtues of stomach crunches-I looked forward to meeting a woman with whom I might be able to discuss more interesting things like, um, beta and standard deviation.
Tuesday afternoon my date and I met for lunch at the Greek diner up by the mall. We chose a booth in the back, opposite the video poker machine. Paula asked me about my kids. I asked about hers. "Where do you know Jean and John from?" "How long have you lived in Allentown?" Then on to careers.
Paula called herself a "financial architect," and she explained that her job was "to help people build a solid foundation for a safe and secure financial future." That sounded impressive, but when the alliterations and euphemisms gave way, just about the time our food arrived, it turned out that Paula sold life insurance and full-load mutual funds.
Me, as I told this gal, I'm a strictly fee-only kind of guy. "Oh," said Paula, lifting a forkful of Greek salad to her mouth. "I could never charge a fee. I want my clients to keep all their hard-earned money for themselves."
I looked for a glint of humor in her over-mascaraed eyes, but there was none. Could she be for real? I fantasized how Paula would look with iceberg lettuce and feta cheese ... oh, never mind.
I kept my thoughts to myself-or at least I didn't share them verbally-and took another nibble of my chicken gyro.
According to the Financial Planning Association, about a quarter of all planners, or at least of FPA members, are "fee only." They do not take commissions. That's me. I'm new to the field, having just recently opened shop. The other three-quarters of FPA members do take commissions, as do, of course, all stockbrokers, insurance salesmen, and annuity marketers. That's my date.
The two camps-us and them, Paula and I, the commissioned and the uncommissioned-well, we tend not to like each other very much. In fact, sometimes the feelings run deep. All this was new to me when I decided to get into the business. The degree of mutual animosity, the contempt and the sanctimony can all be rather astonishing.
One fee-only planner I know, Frank, has been in the biz for many years. Says Frank of commissioned planners: "They are lowlife scum. I absolutely hate them."