The Seven Roles of an Adviser

What is your financial adviser for? One view is that your adviser should have unique insight into the markets to give you an advantage. But of the many roles your professional adviser should play, fortune-teller is not one of them.

The truth is that no-one knows what will happen next in investment markets. And if anyone really did have a working crystal ball, it is unlikely they would be plying their trade as an adviser, a broker, an analyst or a financial journalist.

Some people may still think an adviser’s role is to deliver them market-beating returns year after year. Generally, those are the same people who believe good advice equates to making accurate forecasts. But in reality, the value a professional adviser brings is not dependent on the state of markets. Indeed, their value can be even more evident when volatility, and emotions, are running high.

A professional financial planner plays multiple and nuanced roles with their clients. They focus on the needs, risk appetites and circumstances of each individual and irrespective of what is going on in the world. None of these roles involves making forecasts about markets or economies. Instead, the roles combine technical expertise with an understanding of how money issues intersect with the rest of people’s complex lives.

There are at least seven hats your adviser wears to help you, and none of them involves staring into a crystal ball: –

The expert: Now, more than ever, investors need advisers who can provide client-centred expertise in assessing the state of their finances and developing risk-aware strategies to help them meet their goals.

The independent voice: The global financial turmoil of recent years demonstrated the value of an independent and objective voice in a world full of product pushers and salespeople.

The listener: The emotions triggered by financial uncertainty are real. A good adviser will listen to clients’ fears, tease out the issues driving those feelings and provide practical long-term answers.

The teacher: Getting beyond the fear-and-flight phase often is just a matter of teaching investors about risk and return, diversification, the role of asset allocation and the virtue of discipline.

The architect: Once these lessons are understood, the adviser becomes an architect, building a long-term wealth management strategy that matches each person’s risk appetites and lifetime goals.

The coach: Even when the strategy is in place, doubts and fears inevitably will arise. The adviser at this point becomes a coach, reinforcing first principles and keeping the client on track.

The guardian: Beyond these experiences is a long-term role for the adviser as a kind of lighthouse keeper, scanning the horizon for issues that may affect the client and keeping them informed.

These roles are a world away from the old notions of selling product off the shelf or making forecasts. Knowing your adviser is independent, and not plugging product, will help to build trust in someone with whom you can share your greatest hopes and fears.

Over time your adviser, the listener, becomes the teacher, the architect, the coach and ultimately the guardian. Just as your needs and circumstances change over time, so the nature of the advice service evolves.

None of the roles of your adviser is dependent on forces outside your control, such as the state of the investment markets or the point of the economic cycle. However you characterise these various roles, good financial advice ultimately is defined by the building of a long-term relationship founded on the values of trust, independence and knowledge.

Source: Jim Parker, Dimensional Fund Advisers