Money Magazine Ask the Mole

Why advisers are publicity hounds

Media appearances can make a planner seem wise and authoritative. That doesn't mean he really is.

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By the Mole, Money Magazine's undercover financial planner

Have future topics for the Mole to address? E-mail him at
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(Money Magazine) -- I get a lot of e-mails assuming that I'm undercover out of fear that my peers will attack me. Fear has nothing to do with it. If I were afraid of scathing e-mails from other advisers, I wouldn't publish an e-mail address on this column. I can live with being unpopular.

My reason for writing anonymously is twofold. First, I'll continue to be invited to conferences and learn about stuff you should know about. But the main reason is credibility. If I had my name on a column advising you to dump a fee-grubbing adviser, you might question whether my motive was to inform you - or to drum up business.

Truth is, many planners spend a great deal of time and money to see their name in print. Every time a financial planner is mentioned in a newspaper or magazine or on TV, his or her credibility is enhanced. Getting quoted is a tactic that planners (including me, under my real name) use to attract clients.

A quote in the press may be a sign that a planner is good - or maybe not. A certified financial planner who I know sold seven variable annuities to an older client - an entirely inappropriate number - was recently quoted in a national publication expressing concern about seniors.

Before you conclude that the planner in print is particularly deserving, consider how easily we can get media exposure. We can pay to show up in books, for example. Did your planner write the foreword to Values-Based Financial Planning? So did plenty of others.

To look like an expert, we can pay to put our name and picture on pre-written financial guides. I recently heard this pitch from a marketing company that helps advisers find potential clients: When a retiree requests a free booklet about retirement income from a website, I can have my name included on the guide he gets - all for a $149 one-time fee and $18 a sales lead.

So if your planner shows you a publication with his or her name on it, consider whether it's legitimate or a cleverly disguised advertisement. You may not be able to tell, but you can ask your planner whether he paid for the exposure. Or search for the publication online. If it's real, it should be possible for anyone to subscribe.

In the end, don't be overly impressed by p.r. Instead, ask tough questions up front, such as what your total costs will be, and make sure you understand what your planner is doing with your money. But don't base your trust on your adviser's media fame.

The Mole is a certified financial planner and certified public accountant who - in the interest of fairness - thinks you should know what goes on behind the scenes in financial planning. Want to make contact? E-mail To top of page

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