Fiduciary Standards

Teaching Clients What Fiduciary Means to Their Investments

The bold print giveth and the fine print taketh away.

It’s a bit of truthful sarcasm often repeated by professionals within the financial services industry when describing the usefulness of those phone-book sized prospectus documents outlining the legalities of 401(k) accounts and other savings-oriented vehicles.

“It is something my dad always said,” quips Philip A. Guske, CFP® president and CEO of Pathfinder Wealth Management, Inc., based in Rockford, Illinois. “We have lawyers writing all of this information that could be fascinating to me and others within the financial services industry, but the general public does not care. Most of the time, they just are going to throw it in the trash can anyway. They are not going to read through a 100-page booklet. That is going to be a nightmare for them.”

Recent surveys back up Guske’s point that long, drawn-out legal documents don’t help investment consumers better understand the fees they pay, or the reasons for those fees.

A 2012 survey by the Insured Retirement Institute documented that 95 percent of investors want shorter prospectuses with a clear, straightforward statement of fees. Of those 95 percent, the bulk indicated the most recent prospectus they were given was far too long and required far too much time to identify fees. Only 17 percent indicated they had read the full document. Ninety percent said they never looked at the prospectus again after the initial purchase.

In Guske’s view, it is the job of the financial advisor to break down and simplify what is contained in a prospectus.

pathfinder 0180“These documents can be helpful, but it truly is not the fault of the public that they do not fully understand something that, unfortunately, many in the financial services industry themselves do not fully understand. It is up to the advisor to tell people; to tell clients what is truly going on in their investments, and to facilitate more education for consumers,” Guske said, adding that “the approach to client education within the financial services industry needs be transformed.”

Guske isn’t seeking to turn clients into financial services experts – that’s his job. But he is working toward teaching them “a few of the right things,” that enable clients to ask informed questions and be assured their decision-making process is properly guided. It is where his role as a true fiduciary begins.

Since the U.S. Department of Labor’s action to require all financial advisors to act as fiduciaries has gained attention in the media, Guske said more of his clients have asked questions of him regarding the definition of a fiduciary and how he applies that to his practice.

“The term fiduciary is becoming more well-known,” he said, adding that he welcomes the questions because they open the door for him to further explain that his role is to identify investment options that are in the best interest of each client, versus pushing for a client to purchase particular products.

Guske believes that the financial services industry has a lot of ground to still cover in educating the general public – and the industry’s clients – about what a fiduciary is and how a fiduciary must conduct their business.

Again, a recent survey backs up Guske’s viewpoint.

A 2014 report by the Betterment for Business organization highlighting the results of answers given by 1,000 401(k) contributors described as long-term investors in their employer’s sponsored plan showed that 42 percent of those investors could not accurately define the role of a fiduciary or what they as a consumer should expect from a fiduciary.

“We are on a mission to change that within our industry, and to help people better understand where they are at the start of their journey toward financial security, and also understand how they are going to get to where they want to be,” Guske said.

He likens the path to financial security to doing a Google search on the internet regarding any topic.

“You are going to get at least two or three different answers,” he said. “My job is to present those to the client and guide them to make an intelligent educated decision on which path to pursue.”

His clients – the bulk of whom have $750,000 or more in assets – are people who have experienced a degree of success in their own chosen profession. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need help framing the big picture and sorting out the details of their financial lives.

“Just because you are brilliant in one area of business does not mean that you are going to be or even should be expected to be brilliant in your finances or in your wealth management,” he said. “It is kind of like an athlete. Just because an athlete is a super star in one sport does not mean he or she will be in all sports. Look at Michael Jordan. He is amazing in basketball, yet, he tried other sports and did not do so well. He was only brilliant in one. The same concept applies to finances.”

Learn more about Philip A. Guske, CFP® and Pathfinder Wealth Management, Inc., online at


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