Is an Investment Advisor Really Worth the Investment Advisory Fee?

by Joe Beckford

A recent survey indicates that an increasing number of high net worth investors are willing to pay for solid, unbiased, fee-only investment advice, which is not surprising considering the challenges of today’s markets. What is surprising is that there are still some investors who would rather go it alone, thinking they can do better on their own, or that investment advice is not worth the cost, or both.  With the average fee charged by an investment advisor around 1 percent (for accounts over a million dollars), some investors are asking themselves whether the advice they receive actually amounts to a 1 percent advantage in their investment performance. In other words, could they do better on their investment returns if they didn’t have to pay the 1 percent fee?

On the surface that may seem like a fair question, at least until you examine what value the right fee-only investment advisor actually brings to the relationship. The real question is whether or not you feel the advice you receive will add at least 1 percent of value to your portfolio. If you feel that it doesn’t or won’t, then the answer is obvious – you could probably do better on your own.

However, I would add one important caveat to that answer, and that is you really shouldn’t ask the question when the markets are doing well. That’s because most advisors, and for that matter, many do-it-yourself investors, generally look good in up markets.

The time to evaluate the worth of an investment advisor’s advice is during the down markets. Here’s why:

A good investment advisor will have positioned your portfolio with proper diversification to withstand increased volatility and reduce the downside exposure. A well-diversified, strategically allocated portfolio will almost always decline in value less than the stock market indexes. If your portfolio only declines 7 percent while the stock market declines 12 percent, you’ve covered your cost multiple times over.

A good investment advisor will keep you focused on your long-term objectives rather than the market shifting macro events of the day that will have no impact on the long term performance of your portfolio. Many investors who fled the market in 2008 still haven’t recouped their losses, while those who rode the coaster have more doubled their money since then.

A good investment advisor will help you avoid the many common mistakes investors make like trying to time the market (which is nearly impossible) or chasing performance (which is almost always a trap), or trying to pick the winners (which less than 40 percent of the pros can do with any consistency). These mistakes can cost investors a significant portion of their portfolio value.

A good investment advisor will always have your best interests and long-term objectives in mind, which will free you of the time, energy and worry spent trying to manage your portfolio on your own, and that could be priceless.

A truly honest appraisal of the value of investment advice would have to consider how much you stand to lose when the going gets tough, not while everyone is riding the wave of a market rally. If a good investment advisor can help you in any one of the four ways described above, they could be worth their weight in gold. But, a really good advisor will typically help you in all four ways. What’s that worth to you?