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Advisor Pet Peeves: Client Questions You Hate

Advisors dream of a world with informed, collaborative clients -- but reality sometimes fails to measure up. After catching a conversation on Twitter that first raised the issue, Financial Planning asked other advisors to share some of the questions they hate to hear.

Here's a sample of the most popular grievances. If you've got any other questions you hate to hear, please sign in and add them below -- or email us at fpeditor@sourcemedia.com.


For Dan Moskowitz, president of New Jersey-based Chatham Wealth Management, with $250 million in assets under management, the worst question to hear is, "What will the market do this week, this month and this year?" 

"I tell them that my crystal ball is a little cloudy today; I do not know what the market will do this year," he says.

The best he can do, therefore, is to aim to protect his clients' money through both good and bad economic times. "I tell my clients that for them to invest in equities, they need to be prepared to weather a 20% downturn. That's the risk."

Moskowitz' typically high-net-worth clients are, on average, in their late 50s -- retirees or soon-to-be retirees who have made their money and simply want to safeguard it. When valuations are high, Moskowitz advises clients to avoid putting as much into the equity market. In what he thinks is a rising rate environment, on the other hand, he advises them to avoid owning long-duration fixed income. " I always laugh at wirehouses' ... predictions of how the stock market will do this year," he says. 

George Papadopoulos, founder of Fee Only Wealth Management in Novi, Mich., which caters to affluent individuals and families, tells his prospects that he doesn't do market timing at all. If they are looking for excitement in their investment portfolio, he tells them, they are definitely talking to the wrong financial planner. Harsh, but fair, Papadopoulos believes. 


Advisors also gripe about clients who focus only on the short term.

Mark Witaschek of McLean Asset Management explains that his firm uses a passive indexing approach, diversifying his clients' money over roughly 13,000 global equities. "Investing isn't about picking the best manager on any given year -- it's a methodical strategy of rebalancing."

Looking at the long term also requires advisors to serve as coaches, he says: When clients are clamoring to get out of the market because of political or fiscal fears, for example, the job of an advisor is to encourage clients to rebalance their portfolios and stay the course.  

3. BUT WHAT IF ...

For Amy Jo Lauber, who founded Lauber Financial Planning in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2010, the worst questions are "what if" scenarios. 

An advisor needs to set realistic predictions about the future, she says. "I get frustrated when a client wants to me to re-run all kinds of scenarios using his or her assumptions instead of mine (which are conservative), to make the projections look better. I mean, we could play "what if?" forever; but it's not productive.

"I focus on strategies and decisions we can control," she adds -- "not things we cannot control, like inflation, taxes, rates of return." 


Michael Kitces, an active social media user, blogger and a partner at Pinnacle Advisory Group, says the failure of clients to see the forest for the trees is a top peeve. Clients occasionally come in fixated on a specific issue -- say, the future of gold prices -- rather than asking about their overall financial wellbeing. “That question often comes before we’ve talked at all about their plan, their goals, or even just what’s already in their portfolio!” Kitces says.


Another point of irritation is when clients get bogged down in questions over fees. The problem there isn't really the discussion of compensation, says David Canter, executive vice president in Fidelity’s practice management group, but rather that fee questions are usually a signal of other problems with client satisfaction. "There’s probably something else lurking, maybe a problem around the value of the services rendered versus fees paid," he says. 

"The best practice is to make sure advisors spend time educating clients about how their portfolios can perform in different markets and market volatility," Canter adds. He recommends that advisors  be up front and provide ongoing education.


Not everyone thinks client questions are a headache -- indeed, Thomas Muldowney of Savant Capital Management questions the notion of "pet peeve" questions altogether. "Not once, not a single time, have I been asked a question that I took to the ‘peeve’ level. Advisors' answers should be thorough and complete so that the client has zero misunderstanding," he says.

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