With Debt Relief in the Offing Investors Tighten Reins on Money

Madoff scandal gives rise to debt relief issues

Blind faith in your money manager is not a viable option

In the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal, debt relief has become a persistent theme. Madoff had a long running Ponzi scheme in which he bilked investors of over $13.2 billion.

Under the guise of a gifted money-manager, Madoff attracted high-profile clients like Steven Spielberg, Kevin Bacon, and Hall-of-Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax. Madoff claimed his client’s investments were earning them big returns, but in reality he was using the investment money provided by new customers to fund those returns. The remainder of the money was used to sustain his lavish lifestyle.

A new skepticism

In the wake of such a high-profile crime, a new skepticism has been introduced to the business relationship between investors and money. For example, Tony Guernsey, a wealth manager for over 40 years, said that his clients are beginning to ask him a new question: “How do I know that I own what you tell me I own?” Guernsey said that he understands the concern in the light of recent financial developments. “The bottom-line,” he added, “is that the foundation between wealth manager and client, has been called into question, if not destroyed.”

Tips for investors

In an effort to restore consumer confidence, the Securities and Exchange Commission offers the following advice to consumers.

Read statements

The law requires all money managers to provide written account statements. Studies have shown however, that most investors rarely read them. To assist their customers, some companies have created simpler ways to track wealth. HSBC Private Bank offers WealthTrack, a system that clearly shows investors what they own, where it comes from and what the projected return is. Advent software is a wealth management reporting system that is quickly gaining steam with money management firms who know they have to regain consumer trust. The reality, however, is that consumers need to be responsible for their own investments. Blindly sending money to a money manager is no longer a viable option.

Monitor money managers

Financial advisor Kelly Campbell of Fairfax, Virginia, said that investors should “call the firm that actually holds their money to check on the manager.” Most independent money managers use third-party custodial firms to hold investor funds. Bernie Madoff, on the other hand, held the funds himself, which should have triggered the immediate doubt of his investors.

According to Campbell, “every bit of information an advisor can get, a client can get too.” It takes research, but consumers can check up on their investments for added peace of mind. Knowing where the money is and what it’s invested in is integral to understanding how it will play into retirement funding, debt relief, and savings.

Ask questions

Consumers should consistently ask questions based on their monitoring and reading of documentation. Carl Loughton, financial advisor in Chicago, Illinois, stated, “Many people are too trusting…they hand money to their money managers and walk away hoping it will sustain them in the future. Good money managers will provide answers before [the questions are asked].”

Consumers rarely reach the level of understanding a money manager has, but they can gain a basic understanding of documentation provided. Loughton added, “If something looks funny, ask. The worst that can happen is your manager saying ‘I don’t know’ and then check[ing] on it for you.” In the end, money is the responsibility of the owner. Consumers need to be proactive about their finances to ensure that someday their money will sustain their retirement, help them find debt relief, or finance their children’s futures.

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