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Financial Institutions Push Products?

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I am stunned, amazed, and find it all very hard to believe*.

A lawsuit in the United States alleges that JPMorgan Chase steered clients [4] “to overpriced, underperforming funds to boost the bank’s fees and profits.”

Say it ain’t so. Next you’ll tell me (spoiler alert) that there is no Santa Claus nor Easter Bunny.

The linked article makes some important points that individuals should always remember. 

First, let me say that this is just a lawsuit at this point. And JPMorgan may be innocent of the accusations. However, the general points still hold.

Caveat Emptor

Caveat emptor and common sense, people.

JPMorgan falsely represented its financial advisers were operating under fiduciary duty to clients, while its bonuses encouraged the sale of proprietary funds, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class action status.

Unless there clearly is a legal, fiduciary relationship [5] between you and another party, do not assume there is one.

Never assume that your counterparty has your best interests at heart. No matter how nice the person is, at the end of the day it is his or her interests that come before yours. Always put yourself in a position to safeguard your interests.

Companies Sell In-House Products

Some financial institutions sell “best of breed” products from a variety of sources. That said, anytime you are dealing with a company that also sells proprietary products, you need to exercise caution.

JPMorgan, the largest U.S. bank, turned to proprietary funds and investments to make up for declining profits after the housing boom burst, according to the lawsuit. The strategy allowed JPMorgan to collect double fees for management and sales, it said.

JPMorgan is in the business to turn a profit. JPMorgan makes money selling JPMorgan products. They make much less selling you Citibank or Vanguard products.

Companies Market Their Products

Companies normally attempt to put a positive spin on their products and services in order to make a sale. Some people think that banks, brokerages, and other financial institutions are more above board than the traditional “used car salesman”.

According to the lawsuit, JPMorgan’s marketing materials highlighted “inflated, hypothetical returns,” while suppressing a “much less rosy” picture of performance.

Nope. Financial institutions can be just as sneaky as any other business.

Free Lunches are Never Free

I have personal experience with financial institutions and advisors who push products.

If your bank, broker, or financial planner is not charging you for their services, you need to ask yourself how they are making their money. It has to come from somewhere.

And that somewhere is in product fees, retrocessions on product sales, bonuses for in-house product sales, selling complementary products and services, etc.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. In my experience, the cumulative price you pay in higher fees more than offsets any free advice you receive.

Learn to understand the true cost and benefits of any financial products you consider purchasing. Ask questions until you are satisfied and get it in writing to avoid “misunderstandings” later on.

If you do, you will improve your probability of successful wealth accumulation. If you do not, you will only create wealth for advisors and financial institutions.

* If you could not guess, that was a heavy dose of sarcasm.