How do you stump an advisor? Try throwing him or her a hard question like, "Why didn't you see the market collapse coming?" Or better yet, in the age of Madoff, ask the advisor, "How do I know you're not a crook?"
Five industry heavyweights gathered Sunday at the Financial Planning Association's 2009 Anaheim, Calif., conference to discuss what to do when facing those tough questions-and how to defuse them.
They said one question clients are asking is why didn't advisors foresee the apocalyptic ruin that befell the markets in 2008. Harold Evensky of Evensky & Katz said that trying to predict what would have happened in the market was almost as good as seeking the truth with Ouija boards and crystal balls. His co-panelists said that economists work in hindsight, so it isn't possible for advisors to predict something like the credit crisis, the housing market collapse and the decimation of institutions that were 100 years old.
Elissa Buie of Yeske Buie added that many things aren't predictable-including the inevitable turnarounds, which a client would want to be invested for.
Other panelists said that many clients realize this question isn't rational.
"This is not an intellectual question," said Tim Kochis of Aspiriant. "It's an emotional cry. [Clients say] 'I've suffered lot of pain. You should have been in a position to soften that blow for me and I feel like you have failed to do your job, even though I know intellectually that you could not have anticipated that.'"
Another tough question clients ask advisors is why they still adhere to asset allocation when it appears to have failed.
"I don't agree with the premise that asset allocation failed to work," said Kochis. "It's not designed to protect against movements in a short-time horizon [like the market collapse]. It's designed to provide optimal performance over long periods of time."
Or put another way, it worked perfectly well if you told you clients up front that cataclysms of this kind were always possible at one narrow end of the risk universe-where the black swans swim.
Michael Branham of Cornerstone Wealth Advisors, said he told his clients that asset allocation had indeed done its job, because they were in strong fixed income holdings that generated income and prevented them from jettisoning depressed stocks at steep losses.