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At a time of market volatility, beware of rogue advisers who play on your fears

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Read your LinkedIn news feed with a skeptical eye, and think twice before replying to an email from a financial adviser seeking your business this week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average














DJIA, -2.15%












plunged over 500 points Friday during yet another volatile week. The S&P 500














SPX, -2.21%












 index and the Nasdaq Composite Index














COMP, -2.94%












 were also down. Understandably, many people are concerned about what this means for their 401(k) accounts and, for those who are already drawing income from their retirement accounts, it’s especially worrying.

Don’t miss: During a stock-market selloff, how would you invest $100,000?

“What they are selling is exactly what they should not be doing,” said Tim Courtney, chief investment officer of Exencial Wealth Advisors in Oklahoma City. Statements like “Your retirement is at risk!” at a time of extreme market volatility are not uncommon when hustling for business. “I hear and see those same advertising and news stories online and on the radio,” Courtney said. “They try to take advantage of the situation.”

“It’s always been a part of our profession,” said Frank Paré, the 2018 president of the Financial Planning Association, who is based in Oakland, Calif. “Whether it’s fear or greed, it’s par for the course.” He recommends avoiding anyone attempting to play on your emotions with statements like “Get in before it’s too late!”


‘Proceed with caution when you sense that someone is trying to sell fear.’


Jared Snider, Exencial Wealth Advisors


When financial advisers market themselves, they have certain compliance requirements under the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or the Securities and Exchange Commission. “They cannot make unsubstantiated claims,” said Morey Stettner, a consultant, contributor to MarketWatch and author of “Skills for New Managers.”

Stettner sees inappropriate blogs or advertisements occasionally where advisers aggressively market their services, he says. “There’s a small percentage who push the envelope in that area.” “Appealing to fear is a red flag,” he said. “From my experience, the most credible advisers appeal to positive emotions such as enjoying retirement, living your dreams and attaining long-term financial security.”

Don’t miss: How low will the Dow go? Brace yourself for the worst-case scenario

Of course, this is a natural time to reach out to prospective clients, said Jared Snider, a senior wealth adviser at Exencial in Oklahoma City. “Whether they’re the folks who have the best interests of their clients at heart or not, you’re going to see a lot of outreach,” he said. “Proceed with caution when you sense that someone is trying to sell fear. There are reasons to be cautious around the market for sure, but operating around fear doesn’t revolve around good decision making.”

It’s not just during times of market volatility. In January, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority issued its annual priorities letter, which included stern words on sales practices. “Finra will review situations where brokers’ recommendations require customers to pay unnecessary fees,” it said, as well as “recommendations that customers purchase products subject to front-end sales charges” and transfer those to a “fee-based advisory account.” It also chastised firms that recommend investors roll over accounts from 401(k) accounts to individual retirement accounts.

So what should you do?

Seek out experience, credentials and someone who provides stewardship rather than chasing performance (and clients). And follow your instincts.

You should never feel uncomfortable or be made to feel uncomfortable by an adviser, accountant, lawyer, relative or friend when it comes to your finances. You may also want to consider a fee-based old-fashioned bank fiduciary adviser, who must put your interests first. Lorraine Ell, chief executive and senior financial adviser of Better Money Decisions, a financial advisory firm near Albuquerque, recommends a fee-only fiduciary to manage accounts.

Financial advisers registered with state regulators or the Securities and Exchange Commission owe clients “a duty of undivided loyalty and utmost good faith.” First-time investors or those worried about their retirement in light of recent market volatility should ask any adviser they contemplate working with, “Are you a fiduciary?” Many may just say yes. So experts advise that to make sure they are registered. Check out the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors for a list. Also, contact the Certified Financial Planner Board to see if your choice was ever disciplined.

“The adviser should be helping the client to manage the worry around the market,” Snider said. “Don’t invest in a vacuum. Know what your goals are and your ability to tolerate volatility.”

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