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To Safeguard Your Wealth, Avoid the Exploiters

Posted on: November 1st, 2017

To Safeguard Your Wealth, Avoid the Exploiters

Back in the inaugural issue of the BSW Inner Circle Special Report, we showed you how to steer clear of two types of financial advisors who could erode your hard-earned wealth—or even destroy it.

  1. Pretenders are advisors who do not serve their clients well due to incompetence, or who have good intentions but limited expertise. They may want to do a sensational job for their clients, but they are just not capable.
  • Predators engage in illegal behavior to cheat and swindle people. A whole range of Predators look to manipulate other people—particularly accomplished, affluent individuals and their families—by breaking the law.  

But there’s a third type of “professional” who is likely to be devastating to your personal wealth and emotional well-being:

They are the Exploiters.

The goal of Exploiters is to behave dishonorably, but not illegally, for their own satisfaction and gain. Unlike Predators, Exploiters do not break the law; their actions are technically within the bounds of current laws. But the aggressive solutions they advocate have a good chance of exploding down the road or generally not working out as promoted—and the Exploiters are fully aware of that fact.

Based on our experience, many of the top successful business owners know to be on the lookout for advisors seeking to exploit them in these ways—they know the warning signs, and they know to seek out a second opinion whenever those signs start flashing.

Here’s what these top entrepreneurs can teach you about avoiding the Exploiters.

Four key traits of professional Exploiters

Let’s take a closer look at four ways Exploiters are different from Pretenders and Predators (see Exhibit 2).

  1. Expertise. Pretenders have limited expertise but are often unaware of that fact. Also, Pretenders’ expertise is a function of the subject matter. A financial advisor can be very capable when it comes to money management, for example, but is not necessarily proficient at tax planning (although he or she doesn’t fully realize this).

Predators may or may not be experts on a subject. They are pitching a very appealing and intriguing story—and that, many times, is enough.

In contrast, Exploiters tend to be very technically competent. They will regularly hang their legally untested solutions on nuances in the law. Often their grasp of the subject matter is exactly what they use to confound clients and even other professionals they work with.

  • Integrity. Pretenders intend to do what is best for their clients, but are in over their heads.

Predators are criminals with no concern for clients, whom they view as marks and suckers.

Exploiters have very little integrity and only some—but not much—concern for their clients. They are not willing to engage in illegal activities, but this is usually due to fearing the consequences and not because of any sense of responsibility. A bad outcome for an Exploiter is a financial hit, but rarely jail.

  • Interpersonal skills. The ability of Pretenders to build rapport with clients ranges extensively. Some are exceptional, while others are poor. Most fall in the middle.

In contrast, the interpersonal skills of Predators and many Exploiters tend to be high. Exploiters are excellent at impressing others with intellect and/or charm. Their charisma, charm and personal appeal are often part of their ability to manipulate clients. That said, some Exploiters might have limited interpersonal skills. In these scenarios, their ability to overwhelm clients and other professionals with evidence of their brilliance drives their success.

  • Legitimate solutions. To the best of their knowledge Pretenders offer only lawful financial products and legal strategies. Unfortunately, they really don’t know that much—leaving them susceptible to promoting questionable products and services.

Predators, of course, lie from the start. They, by design, do not offer legitimate solutions.

Exploiters offer legitimate solutions—at that moment in time. To be clear, they are not Predators. The products and strategies (or the variations of them) they advocate are currently legal, often because they have not been adequately tested in the courts or have not drawn IRS scrutiny. Their solutions are regularly considered to be aggressive and “pushing the envelope.” Sometimes the results will indeed match up to everyone’s expectations—but a great many stars have to align for that to happen!

Indeed, the recommendations of Exploiters (and Predators) have a certain “too good to be true” quality.

Red flags to watch out for

Exploiter red flags, part 1: aggressive-sounding solutions lacking in detail. Often, Exploiters will withhold information to muddy the waters to get business owners to make decisions that are not in their best interests. Anytime someone approaches you with a way to purchase life insurance with pretax dollars outside of a qualified retirement plan, for example, there is the good possibility that strategy is aggressive and in a gray area in terms of its long-term effectiveness. While not illegal today, it could easily become a problem in the future.

Exploiter red flags, part 2: playing the blame game if something goes wrong. From the world of confidence artists, there’s the concept of the “blow off.” This is when the confidence artist constructs the situation so that the mark (the victim) goes away and does not cause trouble. Exploiters apply this concept expertly. Sometimes it is a matter of shaming the victim. Sometimes it is a matter of directing the blame to the victim or the client’s other professionals.

Exploiter red flags, part 3: too-good-to-be-true assumptions and promises. If you’re promised the moon, be wary. For example, Exploiters may promote premium financed life insurance as cost-free life insurance. Always slow down if you’re promised that something is free, as it could be a sign the strategy is pushing the envelope. The assumptions underlying the projections seem somewhat magical, but the client and his or her other advisors are so impressed or confused that they end up enamored. While the strategy will likely falter, it can be many years—more than a decade—before it truly collapses. By that time, the financial advisors are long out of the picture. Likewise, any guarantees of future performance results should not simply be accepted at face value.

Exploiter red flags, part 4: large fees that aren’t explained well. Another example is lawyers who charge egregious fees to do work for which most lawyers would charge much less. If you’re given a fee, ask the lawyer to spell out exactly why you’re being charged that fee. You should be given specific reasons—maybe your situation is more complex than is typical, and involves setting up certain trusts. If you are given reasons for the fees, and the logic behind them makes sense to you, great. But if the answers are vague or you’re told “that’s just what we charge,” don’t simply smile and nod. Of course, this applies to all the fees you’re being charged.

The smart move: Get a second opinion

If you’re ever presented with a financial product, solution or strategy that promises the moon and seems too good to be true, or that is presented to you as an aggressive way to use the strategy, listen to your instincts. Don’t immediately move forward with that plan and that financial advisor (or other professional).

Instead, seek out a second opinion about the proposed solution from another financial advisor with the knowledge and capabilities needed to accurately assess the solution. By having “another pair of eyes” do a thorough review, you can avoid potentially becoming the victim of an overly aggressive strategy that could blow up in your face months or years down the road—and derail your financial security.

Of course, a second opinion review might reveal that the proposed solution is acceptable, valid and right for your situation. The point is to know one way or the other so you’re not separated from your hard-earned wealth by someone who doesn’t have your best interests in mind.

This report was prepared by, and is reprinted with permission from, VFO Inner Circle.  AES Nation, LLC is the creator and publisher of VFO Inner Circle reports.

Disclosure: The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those held by Kestra IS or Kestra AS. The material is for informational purposes only. It represents an assessment of the market environment at a specific point in time and is not intended to be a forecast of future events, or a guarantee of future results. It is not guaranteed by Kestra IS or Kestra AS for accuracy, does not purport to be complete and is not intended to be used as a primary basis for investment decisions. It should also not be construed as advice meeting the particular investment needs of any investor. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Securities offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Kestra Advisory Services, LLC (Kestra AS), an affiliate of Kestra IS.

Fusion Wealth Management is not affiliated with Kestra IS or Kestra AS. https://www.kestrafinancial.com/disclosures

VFO Inner Circle Special Report
By Russ Alan Prince and John J. Bowen Jr.
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