When a financial advisor, someone with a radio or television show, or an author of financial books becomes well-known, it’s easy to assume you can trust that person’s advice. This isn’t necessarily the case.
Recently I was selected by an Internet community site called moneytips.com as one of their top 50 “social influencers.” This is a list of professionals in the areas of wealth and personal finance who use social media and other Internet tools effectively.
Among the top three on this list are Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, whose books and advice include a great deal of solid information to help people get out of debt, manage money well, and provide for the future. Many others in the top 50 are respected financial journalists and advisors.
However, the list also includes a few advocates for high-risk investment methods, proponents of dubious get-rich-quick schemes, and purveyors of poorly researched advice. Those who put together the list focused on how well people established a presence on the Internet and used technology to communicate. That’s an assessment completely unrelated to the question of whether the advice or information being communicated was worthwhile.
Financial planning, just like any other field, has a solid core of professionals who quietly and ethically serve their clients. It also has its gurus, its outstanding marketers, and its fringe practitioners with extreme ideas. The challenge for consumers is not to assume fame and quality always go together.
Here are a few suggestions for keeping a balanced perspective about famous or familiar financial faces:
1. Knowing about a professional isn’t the same as knowing a professional. Everyone you know may have heard of Noted Local Advisor. That’s not the same as being able to recommend him or her. Get recommendations first-hand, from people who actually are clients of a firm or have used someone’s plan or advice. Ask specific questions about what they’ve done and how it worked for them.
2. Yes, there are shortcuts to building wealth, but they come with very high risks. For most of us, the best ways to build wealth are gradual and even boring: saving part of every paycheck, living on less than we earn, and investing for the long term in a well-diversified portfolio of different asset classes. It’s natural to wish for an easier, faster way, but that desire can make you more vulnerable to high-risk schemes and even scams.
3. Even if a method of building wealth is perfectly legitimate and works for others, it still may not be a good fit for you. If you’re a reclusive introvert, for example, sales is probably not your best path to success.
4. Apply the same common sense and skepticism to financial products or wealth-building methods that you would use anywhere else. For example, you probably don’t assume that a car’s advertised gas mileage is what you’ll actually get under real-world conditions. In the same way, it’s a good idea to assume that your real-world results from a proposed investment or business will be lower than the advertised numbers.
5. Don’t assume every financial guru is a crook. Many reputable professionals can teach you a great deal about money. Your job is to learn the financial basics so you can evaluate them with some educated skepticism.
And always keep in mind that a product or idea is not the same thing as the selling of that product or idea. The true genius of some financial “experts,” after all, is marketing.