Viewpoint: Time to consider a financial adviser?

November 7, 2008

Right about now, wealth management feels a lot more like damage control.

It's probably the most dreaded mail you've ever received, the letter that arrived a few weeks back and sat there on the counter, laughing at you every time you passed.

More deflating than an audit notice, it's the quarterly earnings statement for your investment portfolio, that point where global panic gets very personal. If retirement is still a distant blip on your radar, perhaps you've managed to shrug it off. If that day is marked on your calendar, you probably haven't been sleeping so well.

If nothing else, market conditions and editorial calendars have converged in a fortuitous way: You are holding our report on the 150 Best Financial Advisers for Doctors, a Medical Economics exclusive that could provide the call to action you've been waiting for.

Certified financial planner Jeffrey Seymour, managing director of http://DoctorWealth.com/ in Cary, North Carolina, knows that physicians must weigh a unique set of circumstances in formulating their investment strategy. "They are small-business people who have a whole bunch of concerns," he says. "And a lot of these people face the prospect of never getting a raise."

Give yourself a moment to shake off the sting of those words, but there's more sobering news on the way: "Your losses are your losses at this stage," Seymour says. "Sell everything. Park it in short-term money markets, something safe."

Granted, this is not your everyday prescription for financial healing. Then again, this is not just every day, Seymour says. As of press time, Wall Street was still struggling to catch its breath in the wake of the worst week in market history, which was followed by the largest single-day gain on record, then another decline. According to Seymour, the darkest days may still lie ahead.

"The closer we get to the Dow at 7,500, the happier I am," he says. "That's where it's fairly priced. Until we get down to 7,500, there's still room to lose." This is why Seymour believes minimal-risk investments, perhaps even your mattress, make appealing options.

Of course, when the market rebounds-and it always does eventually-your mattress won't ride that wave.

"When you get to these points, the risk/reward ratio is a lot higher on the up side than it is on the down side," says Bill Cleveland, a certified financial planner with Preston & Cleveland Wealth Management in Atlanta and a columnist for Medical Economics. "Who knows-we could have a 10 percent day on a Monday or Tuesday, and you've missed it. To me, that's gambling vs. investing. Investing has a longer-term focus."

In good financial times, as in bad, investors will always debate their need for a financial adviser. But now more than ever, it's time to weigh that decision carefully.

"Take your time, interview a bunch of people, get something that's really good, and get yourself diversified," Seymour says. "And be realistic. If you get anybody who promises you 7, 8, or 9 percent returns, run in the opposite direction."

Consider it advice you can take to the bank. Well, the mattress anyway.

Erich BurnettEditor-in-Chief