This article is by GRS contributor William Cowie.

Woman at desk studying computer screen

Millions rely on financial advisers to do their investing. On the surface, their reasoning seems valid: People feel intimidated by the whole investing thing. It seems like a jungle out there and, to boot, most people know someone who lost it all with bad investments. Others believe they just don’t have enough time to learn about investing or to maintain their investments on an ongoing basis.

The service economy mindset

But it’s not just that people find investing intimidating. We’re accustomed to letting other people perform services for us because we live in what is called “a service economy.”

It’s so common, we don’t even recognize it as a mindset: Instead of changing our own car’s oil, cleaning our pools or windows, mowing our lawns, doing our own taxes or our own nails, we get someone else to do it, someone who specializes in that particular endeavor. We tell ourselves we don’t like doing that thing and, besides, they do a better job, so why not get an expert to do it? After all, we can afford it.

Managing investments is different

Why shouldn’t we add managing our investments to that list? Look at those rich people out there: Don’t they usually have someone managing their millions for them? If it works for the haves, then it must be good for the have-nots. Right?


At least in my opinion — one which I acknowledge at the outset may be controversial — it’s wrong. Managing investments is different than other services, in my opinion.

In life, there are universally true facts and then there are opinions. Facts, like the earth being round, are beyond challenge. Opinions, on the other hand, may be right and they may be wrong. The key to judge an opinion is to examine the reasoning behind it. If the reasoning makes sense, you are likely to agree with the opinion.

So what are the reasons for saying that hiring a financial adviser might be a mistake?

1. Competing interests

Like it or not, investing will be your ultimate career. Whether you are an engineer, administrative assistant or plumber, there will come a day when you no longer make the majority of your money from that career, i.e., your labor. When that day comes, you’ll derive most of your income from your investments, i.e., your capital.

Many times people hire others to do services like mow the lawn, fix a car, or do their nails. And it may make sense to outsource these services if you aren’t particularly good at them or you don’t have much time to devote to them.

But the fact that it makes sense to hire people for those activities does not necessarily mean it makes sense to hire someone for your very income … because that is what you do when you hire a financial adviser. And the fact is that an adviser may have very different goals for your money than you do.

2. Exorbitant expense

In a service economy, everyone performing a service gets paid for that service. You pay the person doing your nails, your taxes, or your lawn, etc. You also have to pay your financial adviser (whether it be out in the open or in the form of hidden commissions or kickbacks).

Rich people who invest in hedge funds are typically charged 2 percent of the total value of the investment every year, plus 20 percent of the gain for that year. So if they had a good year and their investments earned, say, 10 percent, they end up giving the hedge fund manager 40 percent of their gain. Pretty steep, no?

Even if you are not a hedge fund investor, you are still handing over a significant chunk of your income for the services of an adviser. Call me a cynic, but I don’t see people who do lawns and nails driving expensive cars and living in the same expensive neighborhoods many financial advisers do. And that makes me think their take from you and me might just be a little more substantial. Nothing scientific, admittedly — just an observation.

When you consider that, on average, your investments will earn around 8 percent per year, when they take 2 percent (or something close to that) off the top, that is huge! How would you feel about giving a career adviser 20 percent of your paycheck every month just because she found you this job?

That is a steep price to pay someone for something you can easily do yourself.

And you can.

3. It’s not that hard

Investing is not rocket science. The financial management industry spends billions every year in advertising and other forms of marketing, all geared to create the illusion that this investing business is a vicious dragon, shrouded in mystery, just waiting to pounce on you if you just dare to venture within a mile.


I’ve already written about my neighbors:

  • Jim, making an average income, started out hiring an adviser, whom he fired after only a few years because Jim said he can figure out a few simple investments to see him through. They did.
  • Mario, my other neighbor, has a small neighborhood auto shop. He is good with people and working with his hands. He doesn’t want to pay someone to invest in stuff he doesn’t understand, so he and his wife are building up a portfolio of homes they rent out.
  • I have another old friend from California who became a millionaire with both real estate and individual stocks. I once asked him if he would consider hiring a paid professional. He wasn’t scornful or anything; but he said there is nobody out there who cares as much about his portfolio as he, so why pay someone to do something he can learn to do himself?

Investing is neither hard, nor all that time-consuming. In my opinion, it certainly is a lot easier than changing my car’s oil. Why pay someone to do what you can do yourself — especially when that cost constitutes a significant chunk of your income?

Investing can be as simple as buying two or three index funds. Boom, you’re done. Why pay someone to do that for you?

Their argument might be that they can bring their professional expertise to bear and make you more money. Here is not an opinion, but a fact: The vast majority of money managers fail to beat an S&P 500 index fund. Again, that is a fact, not an opinion.

That fact leads to the question: Why pay someone to do worse than I can do by investing in the market? And doing that is easy: Simply buy two or three index funds and you are set to beat 70 to 80 of the paid professionals out there … for but a fraction of the cost.

4. Increased risk

All those stories about people losing their money in scams and bad investments? The vast majority of those scams involve financial advisers. You might argue your adviser is different; he is trustworthy. Their clients believed that about each and every one of the scammers. Just saying.

You might think adding a professional adviser in your personal finance equation will reduce your risk, but the truth may very well be the opposite. Actually, you are adding one more layer of things that can go wrong. The less you know about investing, the more vulnerable you are to incompetence at best, or fraud at worst.

Your best defense is simply doing simple, cautious investing yourself.

5. Personality conflicts

When you buy a house, do you call up a real estate agent and tell her what you want, then tell her to call you when she has bought the house and you can move in?

No, of course not. You want to see all the houses which meet your criteria, and you want to be the one making the final decision.

It’s the same with a job: You want to meet your boss and see the place before you resign your current position to take that new one. You won’t simply take someone else’s word that that new job will be the perfect one for you (especially if that person takes 20 to 30 percent of your paycheck each and every month until you die).

Like a house or job, your investments should reflect your tastes and skills. If you are a handyman or a good people person (like Mario), then building a portfolio of rental properties might make more sense for you. On the other hand, if you’re an introvert like Jim, you may feel more comfortable investing in marketable securities which you can research. Any normal person is much less intimidated and much more involved in things toward which they feel a natural affinity. Financial advisers also gravitate to the things they know and the things they make money from, like annuities.

Investing, like I said, is not rocket science, just like finding a job or buying a house isn’t rocket science. Furthermore, just like a job and a house, investing is a vital part of your future. Just like a smart person takes ownership of their own home or their own career, they will take ownership of their investing as well … which is, after all, their final career.

Lifetime cost/benefit analysis

Many things in life boil down to a cost/benefit analysis. I paid Mario $140 today to change our Jeep’s sway bar links (so I can continue to drive on all those rough roads I love to explore). I also paid Jaime $350 last week to remove a 20-year old red maple tree which fell victim to old age and bugs. There is no way I could have done either. The benefit of what they did for me outweighed the cost by a handsome margin. And those were one-time expenditures.

Investing, however, is not nearly that difficult. Why give away a big chunk of my income every month for buying two or three index funds?

As stated above, this is nothing more than an opinion. Respectfully, what do you think?

Do you agree with this reasoning? If you outsource your investment decisions, are you interested to take a bigger role in your future income? If you make your own investment decisions, what advice would you give others to help them be successful?

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