Over the years, a number of you have asked me to write a review about what exactly goes on with a free financial consultation with Personal Capital. Common questions include: Is the consultation really free? Is the consultation a high pressured sales call in disguise? Will I get something out of it even if I don’t sign up? Is it worth it?
The short answers to the questions are: Yes, the consultation really is free. There’s no high pressured sales tactics, just an understanding they’d like to work with you if you’ve found them helpful. You can continue to use their free Financial Dashboard if you don’t hire them. Yes, you will definitely get some good tailored advice and the opportunity to pick someone’s brain who sees and advises on multiple different types of financial situations for multiple different types of people. And yes, spending time getting a review of your finances for free is worth it since it gets you to review your financial situation at the very least.
I sat down with Patrick Dinan CFP®, a Personal Capital Financial Advisor over the course of 1.5 hours and two sessions, which I’ll now share with you in this post I spent about four hours putting together. The post shall provide transparency on the advisory service process as an insider.
My goals for the meeting were three fold: 1) To understand what a prospective client goes through during the call to advise on a better experience, 2) to understand Personal Capital’s value proposition for the 75-95 bps under management a year they charge and 3) learn what specific advice they could give me, a personal finance enthusiast who has been in the business for 15 years.
I’m sitting in a unique position given I’m very familiar with Personal Capital’s free financial tools as a DIY user for two years before I joined as a consultant to help build out their online content six months ago. I’ve gotten to know some of Personal Capital’s financial advisors and I’ve also sat in on various important meetings with the CEO, CPO, COO, and CMO to get a better understanding of the products and their desired messaging.
An important takeaway I’ve gotten from working more intimately with Personal Capital is that Personal Capital is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) who has a fiduciary duty to do what’s in your best interest. They are registered with the SEC, and are not a broker dealer. Broker deals only have a “suitability standard” for their clients, not a fiduciary standard, whereas RIAs have a much stricter fiduciary standard. For example, if you want to invest your entire $500,000 retirement portfolio in Apple after you dreamt Steve Jobs reincarnates, Personal Capital won’t let you because that violates your risk parameters and is not in your best interest.
A broker dealer, on the other hand, would probably also advise against such an aggressive move, but if push comes to shove, they could execute the transaction. The more a broker churns your portfolio and puts you into higher fee mutual funds, the more s/he gets paid so long as you don’t leave. But no matter how much your portfolio turns over with an RIA, the firm gets paid a fixed percentage of assets under management. The main way a RIA gets paid more is if you’re happy and your assets continue to grow. Interests are better aligned.