Financial adviser red flags

By Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Bernie Madoff. Allen Stanford. You don't have to go too far to find bad financial advisers. What are some red flags that investors should keep an eye out for?

There are usually some tell tale signs that your adviser may not have your best interests at heart.

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If your planner guarantees you big returns on investments, watch out. Investing is always risky and there is no way to guarantee a particular level of return.

And, as Madoff's victims found out way too late -- your checks should go to a third-party custodian who is actually holding your funds, not directly to the planner or his company.

Another sign: You're pressured to buy a specific investment -- remember this is your money, after all, you have to be comfortable with how its being put to work.

One word of caution -- firing an adviser just because you haven't made a double-digit returns over the past two years is wrong-headed. Some of the most level-headed and accomplished investors and portfolio managers had terrible performance over the last two years.

What you want to consider is just how adept they were at responding to the crisis -- where they still contending that GM stock was a great bet when the company was at the government's door asking for help? Or, did they duck your phone calls when the market was tumbling? Both are signs that you should get a new adviser.

If you are working with a stockbroker, call FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. That agency maintains the Central Registration Directory, a database of brokers that includes disciplinary actions taken against them and lawsuits.

Your state securities regulator may maintain information on your broker's employment history and education.

There are lots of designations for advisers -- the ones that mean the most are: CFP, Certified Financial Planner awarded by the CFP Board of Standards; and NAPFA, the National Association of Personal Financial advisers, a group of advisers who don't accept commissions for selling investment products, but work for fees paid by their customers.

-- CNN's Jen Haley contributed to this article.

Talkback: Are you happy with your investment adviser? To top of page

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