Choosing a Financial Planner (or any business, for any purpose)

February 26, 2010

Today's New York Times has an article entitled "Finding Financial Advice in an Age of Bad Behavior." The article talks about financial planners "gone bad," including some that are members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). Even a former president of this organization has turned up among those accused of wrongdoing.

As the reporter notes in the article, NAPFA is a membership organization.  The article says (although many in the organization would disagree) that being an NAPFA member is "not a credential."  However, NAPFA has strong "Standards of Membership and Affiliation" displayed on the organization's website, much as BBB does. 

I have no reason to doubt that NAPFA works diligently, as BBB does, to promote its mission and hold members to standards. Despite the problems that the reporter knows (and has personally experienced) with NAPFA member planners, he writes, "I still believe that a Napfa planner should be among the first people you see when shopping for financial assistance."

What implications does this article have for the Better Business Bureau? 

The “bottom line” is that any self-regulatory organization can only reduce the risk – and can never remove the risk – that a customer will end up dealing with a business that doesn’t do things correctly.

“Start With Trust” by picking a BBB Accredited business is good advice, and always a good ides.  But a potential customer should never put caution aside.  Rather, each customer should do as much research as possible and take all reasonable and appropriate steps to protect him/herself from being “ripped off.”  No matter how well BBB does our job, the BBB can never assure that every BBB Accredited business is completely trustworthy. 

We have to be realistic.  Despite the fact that some “bad apples” (or apples that go bad) will get into the barrel, a NAPFA member or a BBB Accredited business is a good place to start when looking for a financial planner.  But that can never mean that there are not some financial planners and other businesses in the NAPFA ranks and in BBB ranks that will not be highly trustworthy or will not engage in inappropriate behavior.  

Most of us know someone we thought we knew well, and thought was a good person, but who has done bad things.  Failure is part of the human condition.  Even those who fail severely can, at their core, be “good people.” 

BBB helps businesses be better.  We help connect consumers to businesses that, more likely than not, will be trustworthy and customer oriented.  But we’ll never eliminate risk or the need for consumers to “trust but verify” when shopping for any service or product.  BBB is the place to start your search.  But that never means a person should stop searching for more information and better information and doing other things to protect themselves and their money.