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An Urban Dictionary to Help You Speak with Financial Advisors

An Urban Dictionary Education in Terms

Anyone with the Internet has probably heard of, the crowdsourced, online dictionary for slang words and phrases that contains plenty of “NSFW” content. (To spare you the trouble/consequence of going there, NSFW means “Not Suitable For Work.”) Have you ever wanted something like an Urban Dictionary education to help you better understand the terms your financial planner/advisor throws around?

If so, you are in luck, as the following is a list of commonly used terms with some slightly tongue-in-cheek layman’s definitions for your education and enjoyment:

  • Advisor – A person who tells you what to do. This is just about where the common definition ends. That person could be angling for a sales commission, simply airing opinions (like Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner), or really taking your situation seriously. You want your advisor to be a fiduciary.
  • Fiduciary – A person who is charged by law to put your financial interests ahead of his own. Wouldn’t that be all advisors? Sadly, no. You can’t be sure an advisor has put your best interests first unless you verify their fiduciary status. In fact, an entire Washington, D.C., lobby is trying to prevent a fiduciary standard for stockbrokers, who are not fiduciaries and who often call themselves advisors. To add insult to injury, they are currently winning this fight under the banner of “helping the small investor.”
  • Financial Plan – A bunch of colorful charts proclaiming confidently that you can breathe easy by investing with your advisor; may make use of Monte Carlo analysis (see below). A financial plan changes every year and is never accurate. The quality of your financial plan depends on how well your advisor understands you and the assumptions he or she takes to the planning process. Be sure you understand everything and don’t get lulled into false confidence by a slick presentation. Since it is a living document and not a “once-and-done” report, make sure it is updated often.

You may also like, “5 Don’t’s When Selecting a Financial Advisor (and 5 Do’s)

  • Life Plan – Please tell me if you figure this one out. Seems to refer to building a list of priorities and may furnish an excuse for the creation of that industry called “life coaching.” Seriously, though, some people can benefit from having a third party help them clarify and prioritize values. In my opinion, a faith community or good friendships and a well-chosen book can do much the same thing and for a lot less money.
  • Mind Map – A graphical representation of your messy stream of consciousness. Programs like Mindjet, Xmind, and MindMeister or good old paper-and-pencil can give you the tools to create a diagram that connects your goals, plans, hobbies, best friends, and what you ate for breakfast. If it helps you identify relationships you didn’t notice, then it’s working. But if you start acting like a third-rate investigator in a movie with newspaper clippings, yarn, and thumbtacks all over your wall and a wild expression in your eyes, you’re overdoing it.
  • Monte Carlo Analysis – A total wild guess with a bunch of numbers attached. Monte Carlo (MC) analysis introduces “randomness” to outcomes so you can see how your plan might hold up under stress. But MC was not designed for financial outcomes, is not truly random, and takes a lot of work to create. It carries the same risk of false confidence and is better used for stress-testing than projections.

    Make sure you read the methodology and any disclosures before getting too excited about a “No. 1 advisor.”

  • Top Financial Advisor (as named by whatever magazine) – Typically means having more money under management than others in the same region. These awards usually don’t reflect performance, unless you mean the asset gatherer’s performance. Make sure you read the methodology and any disclosures before getting too excited about a “No. 1 advisor.”
  • Volatility – The market went down; you lost money. Somehow it just feels better to talk about “recent volatility” than to say “Oh, boy, did you take a beating!” (No advisor I have read ever uses the term volatility to refer to a sudden gain.)

But, for Real Though…

All joking aside, choosing an advisor you trust to guide your financial plan is a very serious matter. While an Urban Dictionary education would be nice, it’s not really enough. The wrong person could be underqualified, a poor listener, or captive to a perverse commission structure. Some advisors are even engaged in fraudulent activity. Where do you turn for help to make a good decision?

You may also like, “Understanding Your Financial Advisor’s Biases

First and foremost, know yourself. Are you impulsive? Easily led? Ignorant of financial matters? In crisis? Emotionally needy?

All the above can get you into trouble financially. It may be best to start your search within your own support network to find someone you can trust. Lacking that, do some online research. The CFP Board and CFA Institute both publish some excellent materials on how to select a planner or advisor.

Start your search within your own support network to find someone you can trust

From there, my basic advice would be to organize your financial details to the extent possible, ask competent professionals for a referral (e.g., your attorney or CPA can be useful because they risk their own reputations in making the referral), and shop around.

Here is some additional, practical advice:

  • Don’t hire the first advisor who calls you by name, looks you in the eye, and touches your arm affirmingly.
  • Don’t let someone browbeat you with jargon.
  • Insist on being heard and understood.

You may also like, “What Accredited Investors Need to Know When Selecting Advisors

And finally, ask your planner if he or she is a fiduciary. There are so many professionals in our line of work, there is no reason to settle for less. Interestingly enough, your Urban Dictionary education would begin with their own motto: “Define Your World.” I hope this list of definitions goes a long way in helping you “Define Your (Financial) World”.

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About Peter Eickelberg

Peter Eickelberg currently serves as a Managing Director and Chief Compliance Officer of Alpha Fiduciary, a $500 million+ investment advisor based in Phoenix, AZ. Prior to this position, he led the investment department for a large cross-border wealth management firm that specialized in Canadian migrants, and before that he was a broker with a highly-ranked…

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