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July 5, 2022, 5:57 p.m. EDT

‘Are they actually doing anything to help my money grow?’ My financial adviser is mostly investing in index funds. Is there work he’s doing to make me money that maybe I don’t see, or should I ditch him?

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Alisa Wolfson

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Question: If a manager is just putting my money into index funds that track the market, are they actually doing anything to help my money grow? As long as my money is within my risk tolerance, what is the point of the manager?  I have access to index funds now and if a majority of the fund they buy is AAPL, well, I can do that. Is there any work that they do to help my money make money, or do they just follow the market?  When the market is good, I’m good, and vice versa. What advice can you give me? (Looking for a financial adviser? You can use this tool to get matched with a financial adviser who might meet your needs here. )

Answer: Pros say if all the adviser is doing is investing your money in index funds, then yes, it may be time to cut ties with that adviser.  “A good financial planner will help you with more than just your investments and offer comprehensive financial planning,” says certified financial planner Jay Zigmont. Indeed, the point of an adviser is to help you with investment behavior, cash-flow planning, tax-minimization strategy, estate planning issues, insurance policy structure and to educate you on how to live your best life now and in the future, while using your money to help you do that, says Kaleb Paddock of Ten Talents Financial Planning.

Have a question about your financial adviser or want to hire a new one? Email picks@marketwatch.com.

“Ninety percent of financial advisers’ jobs have nothing to do with investments. I would recommend finding a real, fiduciary, financial planner who agrees with this and who will focus more on your life than on your investment portfolio,” says Paddock.

And for Aaron Klein, the CEO of Riskalyze, a fintech company that provides software to financial advisers, the value of a financial adviser comes in helping you navigate the complex and important financial issues that occur during times of stress, anxiety and volatility in the markets. “Our psychology tends to sabotage us as investors and it is navigating bear markets where financial advisers really earn their fee, helping us keep calm, avoid bad decisions and stay the course,” says Klein.

In short, if you’re paying a financial adviser’s fee just for index funds, there may not be much value in that, says certified financial planner John Piershale of John Piershale Wealth Management. “If your adviser provides you with good service, a risk-adjusted portfolio and is there for you, especially in tough times, many people find value in that as they don’t want to go it alone,” says Piershale. You can use this tool to get matched with a financial adviser who might meet your needs here.

Usually, financial advisers who manage investment accounts rebalance their client’s portfolios a couple times a year, says certified financial planner Danielle Miura of Founder-Spark Financials. “Depending on the financial adviser, they may be actively making trades on your account and the disadvantage of having a financial adviser who makes frequent trades on your account is that the trades may cause you more fees and taxes,” says Miura.

When in doubt, ask your financial adviser about their investment philosophy and strategy and remember that you’re paying for the investment management service. “It’s perfectly okay to ask your financial adviser why they are making specific trades on your account and it’s possible to manage your own investment account, however, there are risks involved with making the wrong investment decisions based on your risk tolerance and timeframe,” says Miura.

An adviser may make the most sense for someone who wants help dealing with market volatility. “We’re emotional and generally speaking, when markets go up, we’re excited and want more and when markets go down, we get scared and want to sell everything,” says certified financial planner Matthew Crum of True North Financial Services. As a third party, an adviser can help calm emotions in both times of extreme happiness and fear, helping clients to keep an appropriate perspective on their investments and avoid short-term mistakes.

But not everyone needs to work with an adviser. This guide will help you figure out whether an adviser might benefit you.

Have a question about your financial adviser or want to hire a new one? Email picks@marketwatch.com.

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