For all of the ways the internet has made our lives easier, providing trusted advice is not one of them.
Oh sure, you can find advice on just about everything: Need to remove a stain from your shirt? Want recommendations for a good place to get a burger in Hollywood (California or Florida)? Feeling lethargic and tense? There are plenty of answers there for you.
But because almost everyone in the world can dispense advice and sound quite authoritarian in the process (assuming egregious grammatical errors are kept to a minimum), it can be difficult to know the merits of the information you’re getting. And when it comes to financial advice, the internet is basically the Wild West.
Run a Google search on “retirement investing” and it turns up an endless trove of expert-sounding headlines. “The worst retirement investment you can make,” reads one. “7 retirement investing mistakes,” says another. There’s also “2 Strategies for Retirement Investing” if you’re in a hurry. Or, if you have a little more reading time to spare you can check out, “3 Unconventional Retirement Investing Strategies.”
This is not to say that any of this is bad advice. In fact, some of these articles are published by reputable, well-known news outlets. The problem is that it’s impossible to know for sure what you’re getting.
The advice from these authors might be sound, but knowing nothing of your current finances, your investment portfolio, your debt levels, or your retirement goals, their retirement investment tips are not exactly being tailored to fit your needs. It’s sort of like trying to get an ailment diagnosed online: The person “treating” you may actually be a reputable doctor—even a very good doctor-but without a proper physical and knowing very little of your past medical history, wouldn’t you take this “diagnosis” with a grain of salt? Wouldn’t you likely get a follow-up with your primary care physician just to put your mind at ease?
This lack of quality control in the world of online financial advice can be especially troubling for baby boomers because as they inch ever closer to retirement, their need for an investment roadmap becomes greater.
This issue came to mind this week because of a survey released this week by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. Based on a phone survey of 1,002 Americans on July 7 and 8, the CFP Board found that two years after the economic crisis, Americans are not using financial planners to any greater degree than they were before 2008. In fact, the number has actually dropped. About 28% of the respondents said they were using a financial planner, compared to 29% two years ago.
So what does this tell us? For one, this should be a call to arms of sorts for advisors to step up their game. The country is facing the greatest wave of retirees it has ever seen—anywhere between 76 and 79 million baby boomers—so the job of the financial planner couldn’t be more critical. You should know that if these boomers are not getting advice from you, they’re getting it from somewhere.
What about the boomers that actually use a financial advisor? Well, more than likely your boomer clients are often getting advice from many other sources besides you. Not that you should be like a parent monitoring your children’s online activity, but it would probably help to know if your clients are getting financial advice online and, if so, what their favorite financial sites are to seek out information. Maybe you could even suggest a few quality sites you like checking out yourself.
The bottom line: Even if boomers are getting advice from you, they’re also getting it from somewhere else.
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