Skip to main content

In tough times, financial planners say their business is in demand

By Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN
  • A survey of some financial planners and their clients shows savers are looking for help
  • Their concerns are different now than before the economic downturn
  • Investors are focusing on their individual situations by using financial planners

(CNN) -- It's been a rough couple years for many Americans, watching the value of their retirement accounts dip and their home values drop. But conditions are improving again for many. The stock market is up for the year and investors are seeing their accounts begin to grow again.

With that, plenty of Americans are also conducting their business differently than they once did. They're saving more and spending less, and cutting down on credit-card use. And more are using personal, fee-only financial planners.

Ellen Turf, CEO of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, said her association does not have hard statistics showing an upward trend, but that's what associate members are reporting.

"We don't have any research that show it exactly, but anecdotally, what we have seen and what we've heard and what we recognize by hits on the website is that consumers, the public, savers are looking to financial advisers to help them through these very tough economic times," Turf said.

Fee-only financial planners look at a person's overall financial picture compared with large investment firms, which provide fund-based financial management service, such as for a 401k.

A spot survey of financial planners and their clients turns up anecdotal examples to back up Turf's remarks.

In Boca Raton, Florida, Mari Adams, with Adams and Associates, is a fee-only financial planner. She told CNN Radio her firm is seeing a greater demand for fee-only planners' services. "Most of the calls we're getting, or people coming in for consultations, they want to look at whether they're ready for retirement, how to deal with debt, how to deal with investments, but I think they've realized they do need additional help," Adams said.

In Overland, Kansas, retiree Bob Mallow has been using a fee-only financial planner for the past four years. Mallow switched from a big brokerage firm just ahead of the "great recession."

"We took a big hit, like everybody else," Mallow admits, "but we decided to just hold the course. So we didn't, in the long run, get hurt too badly because we didn't cash out."

Adams says many of the people she's hearing from these days haven't been quite so lucky.

During a recent financial call-in show, "people were calling in about all kinds of issues and a lot of them, unfortunately, are things like credit-card debt and foreclosure," she said. "But we really are seeing people waking up to the fact that they do need help and they're not prepared, and usually the catalyst for that is retirement."

Turf said she has noticed that, too.

"I think we've heard more things about being upside-down with mortgages, a lot about losing jobs and what do they do with their 401k, where do they put it, how do they invest it now. Everything's kind of so messed up, I don't know what else to say about it," Turk added.

"The concerns before, they were so different because everybody was sort of flying high. The economy was good, housing prices were going up. I think a lot of folks were dependent on their houses for their retirement funds. And that's just not so today. I do think the concerns have changed dramatically over the past couple of years."

Ethan Pepper, a financial planner with Wade Financial Advisory Inc. in California, says he's seeing the same thing as Turf and Adams. "We're in the perfect storm, so to speak, for your everyday person seeking out professional guidance, in terms of their portfolio or financial planning, retirement planning," he said about his business

Pepper says his firm isn't seeing a big jump in business, like Adams, but he does say he's noticing new financial concerns, especially when it comes to retirement. Those include tax matters, risk levels and portfolio diversification.

Mallow said the big brokerage firm he had been using charged very large fees to manage his money and that was a significant concern for him.

"The beauty of the financial planner, the fee-only, they're independent, so they're not really trying to sell you anything. They're trying to just work with you based on your own risk tolerance," he said.

"I'm a conservative investor," Mallow said. "So we had discussions about how to invest and where to invest and were just concerned to ensure our asset allocation was done properly. They helped to guide me in that direction to keep me in a pretty safe place."

John Lisk contributed to this report.