Over the years, our firm has seen considerable change in the financial services industry. We’ve seen banks and insurance companies merge, accountants begin to provide investment advice, an increased regulatory environment, a proliferation of independent advisory firms and the emergence of high frequency and automatic trading.

A common inquiry we receive is…What’s an advisor’s value?

Quite often, advisors in our firm meet people who believe they’ve done a considerable amount of proper planning. What may prompt this belief is their acquisition of various investment portfolios, financial products and insurance or perhaps the selection of certain employee benefits.


Many of these folks realize that after decades of planning, they have a shoebox full of products, without an underlying plan to anchor it all in place. Moreover, they may lack clarity as to why they own these programs, if they are currently suitable and how they fit into the future phases of planning.

Accordingly, we’ll ask questions such as: Are you solely focused on building wealth? Protecting what you already have? Minimizing tax burdens? Passing wealth to the next generation?

Many articles have addressed the topic of an advisor’s value, but we feel that many of them miss the mark. Often, these articles focus on strategies such as measuring an advisor’s “alpha” through techniques like security selection, market timing, tax-loss harvesting, portfolio rebalancing and more. While we agree with many of these portfolio-centric strategies, we believe an advisor’s value is best measured in the stewardship he or she brings to the relationship.

Most advisory firms charge their clients for investment advice based on assets under management. The scope of advice often expands to encompass many abstract segments of financial planning which position advisors at the center of their clients’ financial lives. The areas covered may include insurance planning, education funding, estate planning and income-tax planning strategies.


It’s difficult to quantify in dollars and cents the economic benefit of these intangible long-term services.

So, ask yourself how much would it be worth to your family to eliminate portfolio inefficiencies, improper beneficiary designations, ineffective withdrawal strategies, mismanaged cash flows, bad financing terms or inadequate insurance when a death or disability occurs.

Alternatively, one might measure the economic benefit and value gained by eliminating meetings with multiple advisors, having a system in place to measure progress toward long-term goals or having peace of mind that loved ones can turn to one place in the event of an untimely death.

Whether you’re a family with young children, a successful business owner or a newly minted retiree, you’ll likely find it wise to develop a plan for financial decision-making, and to track progress toward your long-term objectives. Having the right advisor to guide, challenge and hold you accountable can be invaluable. By focusing on this stewardship and process, the trend toward treating investment advice as a commodity seems less important amid the big picture of financial planning.

Stephen A. Schwartz offers advisory services as a representative of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company (WMC), a limited purpose federal savings bank, and a subsidiary of The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, Wis., (NM). Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for NM and its subsidiaries. Stephen A. Schwartz is an insurance agent of NM (life and disability insurance, annuities and life insurance with long-term care benefits) and a registered representative of Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, LLC (NMIS) (securities), an NM subsidiary, broker-dealer, investment advisor, member FINRA, SIPC. Pioneer Financial is a marketing name used by a group of Northwestern Mutual representatives (not all of whom are affiliated with WMC) including Stephen A. Schwartz (referred to as the “firm”), and is not a legal entity, partnership, investment advisor, broker-dealer or affiliate of NM. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Northwestern Mutual.

This article was originally published in the December/January 2016 issue of Worth.