It hasn´t been easy for consumers-even the wealthiest, most financially savvy ones-to figure out where the safest place to put their money is these days. News of Bernard Madoff´s $50 billion ponzi scheme has only made discerning the good investment advisors from the bad more difficult.
That´s why an item in the New York Times this weekend caught BankThink´s eye: Readers suggested tips for money management. Among them was a note from Charles Wendel, the founder and president of the Conn.-based Financial Institutions Consulting Inc., describing the difficulty he and his colleagues had choosing a financial adviser they trusted.
Mr. Wendel thinks nowadays commercial banks should step more boldly into their wealth management businesses. BankThink spoke to him about why:
BankThink: Has it become any easier to find a trustworthy financial advisor since you wrote to the Times? How has the Madoff scandal affected that prospect?
Charles Wendel: That letter came from back in April-it was way before [the Madoff scandal]. And obviously, it´s even more of an issue today. Today it´s very difficult for people to trust the investment advisor from two angles: one is the fundamental issue of whether they´re robbing from you. But that´s less of an issue than the quality of the advice-that´s the second angle.
BT: Do commercial banks have any advantages?
CW: Commercial banks do have a reputation for being honest. A Madoff event, if it came in a commercial bank, would be sort of a rogue person. Banks, because they´re so regulated, have the deserved reputation for being more trustworthy.
But it´s also about trust in terms of quality of information-that they have the insights or the experience to provide an investor with the knowledge and sophistication to get them through the difficult environment. It´s a difficult investment environment-who can you talk to who can help you wend your way through what is a very difficult path; who can provide you with insights or experience so that you get if not a good return at least your safe.
BT: That´s the hard part-finding someone "good?"
CW: Yes. Myself and my colleagues-virtually no one I know has an advisor who they would recommend to others. No one has said yes yet and I´ve asked nearly a dozen people whether they know a broker, a financial services broker or a bank advisor who they would recommend to their friends.
BT: So what makes commercial banks attractive in that regard?
CW: Commercial banks have a better opportunity to do that in this environment than they ever had before. Banks have a good reputation even in this day for integrity in dealing with high net worth individuals so that´s something they can take advantage of in this environment. Today´s not an environment in which anyone´s looking for big returns. They´re looking for stability and to make sure their principal is safe.
The thing with Madoff is he wasn´t promising spectacular returns. He was promising consistent returns and every month he released reports saying that the dollars were going up when most of the rest of us were getting reports saying the dollars were going down. In addition he had this reputation as an insider. That he new something that other people didn´t know.
BT: So exactly what should commercial banks do to take advantage of this environment?
CW: They should be promoting their stability if they are stable. They should be promoting their capital position if they have capital. They should be promoting their years of business if they´re going to be around tomorrow. And if they have a good track record in wealth management they should mention that as well. I think it´s less an issue of performance now than one of stability.