AARP: “A widow just shy of her 90th birthday recently asked me to review her investment portfolio. This happens a lot: Much of my practice involves giving second opinions to other financial planners’ clients. This widow had a reason to worry. She had been sold two expensive annuities — just about the last thing a 90-year-old needs — and the rest of her portfolio consisted mostly of risky stock funds and junk bond funds. The planner was making a fortune as the widow’s nest egg dwindled.
A natural reaction would be to file this story next to that of Bernie Madoff or other brazen crooks. But that would be too easy. Like every financial planner I know, the widow’s adviser really seemed to believe that she was doing her client a great service. In fact, she considered her a dear friend.
My point is this: Bad advice is epidemic in my industry, and it doesn’t come only from villainous fraudsters such as Madoff. It also comes from pleasant, empathetic folks who are merely responding predictably to my industry’s perverse incentives and self-serving ethical standards. We financial planners are masters at persuading ourselves that what’s in our best interest also happens to be the moral thing to do. By and large, we’re good people, which is why we can be so convincing — and so potentially dangerous to your money.”