Stanley: Club selection critical in wealth management game

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David T. Stanley

Millions of people work most of their lives to build the retirement savings they will need to live comfortably after they decide to quit working. In some ways, that’s the easy part. For many, the hard part is managing all the wealth they’ve accumulated.

It doesn’t matter whether they’ve saved several hundred thousand dollars or several million; people want to know their investment accounts are growing and that their money is safe. Everywhere they turn, they hear voices from the financial industry competing for attention with facts, figures, claims and promises.

In the middle of it all, retirement savers are busy with careers and families, and have little time to study all the assertions and understand the differences. And rest assured, there are differences.

You would not use a sand wedge to drive a ball down the fairway and you’re not likely to pull a 7 iron for a 10-foot putt. The financial industry is a little like a golf bag. There is a club for every purpose whether it is insurance, investing, retirement savings or a range of other services. The problem is that some of these clubs are being used for multiple purposes. Trust fund managers also set up retirement accounts, insurance companies offer IRAs and brokerage houses sell annuities. No wonder some retirement investors struggle to find the green.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had investor safety in mind when it set up regulatory structure around registered investment advisors, which are financial firms dedicated to financial management services and advice.

Under SEC rules, RIAs must hire an SEC-regulated custodian, such as Fidelity, Schwab, or Pershing, to independently ensure transactional compliance and transaction accounting on behalf of clients. To ensure independent, third-party financial reporting, these custodians also provide account and activity statements directly to the RIA’s clients. Furthermore, RIAs place their clients’ funds in the hands of the custodian, which conducts financial transactions as directed by the RIA, which has legally required approval from the client.

Under this structure, retirement savers have the best of both worlds. They have direct access to seasoned financial fiduciaries with legal responsibility to act in the best interest of clients, and they are protected by giant, multi-trillion-dollar institutions dedicated to keeping their money safe.

The RIA regulatory structure is unique in the financial industry, custom-designed for a specific purpose, just as every other club in the financial industry’s golf bag. So, when it’s time to make a decision about wealth management and retirement savings, don’t take chances. Be sure you’re swinging the right club.

David T. Stanley is the chief executive officer and a founding principal of Full Sail Capital, an SEC-registered investment adviser located in Oklahoma City. The firm is composed of financial advisers registered under the SEC as fiduciaries.