NEW YORK (7/19/10)--Bernard “Bernie” Madoff created a scandal in 2008 when he bilked investors out of their life savings. He also provided a reminder why it’s important to vet the person who’s making decisions--or holding your hand--when it comes to your investments (Dailyfinance.com
July 10). If you’re in the market for a broker or adviser, here’s how to make sure you won’t get scammed:
* Make the broker vs. adviser decision. Brokers are paid to do what you tell them. Generally you have to give the OK before they buy and sell your investments. Investment advisers are paid to give you advice and must be registered with either the Securities Exchange Commission or their state’s securities agency. Typically, you sign a contract with an investment adviser giving him or her authority to manage your funds without you weighing in on every decision. * Do your homework. Research broker backgrounds using the free BrokerCheck tool on the Financial Investor Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Web site. FINRA provides information about licensing, how long a broker has been in business, and any complaints filed against the business. For a financial adviser, whether a firm or an individual, use the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Investment Adviser Public Disclosure site. It provides background information and disclosures about regulation violations on the ADV form. You’ll need to ask if your adviser received income from certain funds, as this is not yet publicly available. This is important because you’ll want to know if your adviser is putting your money into investments that may boost his or her bottom line too. * Select two to three companies to meet with. Take the time to interview potential brokers and advisers--you are trusting them with your financial future, after all. Ask questions about services and their investment philosophy. Be sure you understand how they charge and whether fees are based on commission or a percentage of assets under their management. Request references and check them. * Keep your cash. Many of Madoff’s victims gave him their money directly instead of putting it in a third-party financial institution or with an independent broker-dealer. Keep your investment funds in a separate account so you’ll get statements from the financial institution or brokerage and your investment adviser. Plan to compare them and look for any discrepancies.