Q. You have convinced me that I should pull my funds out of my broker-managed account. I called Vanguard to see how they could help me transfer the funds. Turns out it is complicated. Some things they can transfer. Some things they can’t. Of course it’s a drag to call your broker of long standing and tell him to liquidate so you can get everything moved. My accounts have individual stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and practically everything you can imagine. Some accounts are rollovers, some are IRAs, and some are regular accounts.
What is the best way to extricate yourself from a broker? And are there things you should watch out for to make sure you don’t get screwed in the process, either with fees or by purposely mismanaging your liquidation? Is there anyone who can just grab everything so you don’t have to deal with your broker for liquidation? ---T.B., by email
A. The personal part can be very painful. That’s why you should be well-prepared with figures that indicate the level of underperformance. You should also have similar figures that indicate the level of fees you have been paying.
Having these figures works both ways. You should have the figures because you may be firing your broker for the wrong reason, at the wrong time. Don’t move your account(s) simply because performance has been terrible over the last year. Trust me, it has been terrible everywhere.
Instead, move your account when you are certain that the return has been lower than an index return and that you have been charged a premium price for below-average performance. You can get a good idea of that by checking the Morningstar report for each of the mutual funds you own. If most of the mutual funds you own have been in the bottom 50 percent of their category for the last 3 and 5 years, but the expenses are above average, you have a right to be displeased.
Here are two examples. Morgan Stanley U.S. Government Securities fund A shares have a front-end commission of 4.25 percent and an expense ratio of 0.91 percent. But the fund has been in the bottom 10 percent of the intermediate government bond category over the last 5 years. Similarly, the Putnam Fund for Growth and Income A shares, with a front-end commission of 5.75 percent, put in its best time period performance in the last 15 years over the last 12 months--- but it still did worse than 74 percent of its peer group.
I’m not picking on these funds; they just came up in a casual surfing of underperformers sold in the brokerage marketing “channel.” There are many funds that charge typical fees that are routinely in the bottom 25 percent.
You have a right to expect three things: good judgment, reasonable returns and reasonable fees. If these haven’t been demonstrated, you have a right to move your money to where it will be treated better.
Just remember, this is business: Leave the gun; take the cannoli.
It is often difficult to move accounts because they get loaded with expensive proprietary products. These same proprietary products will often have poor performance because they have been put together and marketed to benefit the brokerage house (or insurance company) rather than you. They also make the account “sticky,” so it is more difficult to move. There is a reason for this and it isn’t to improve your investment life.
The more you have in this kind of junk, the more certain you can be that you won’t be giving up any great opportunities when you direct your broker to sell them.
Once the proprietary products are liquidated, the firm at the receiving end can take over the process of moving your account assets. Sadly, you are at the original firm’s mercy when it comes to liquidating proprietary products such as unit trusts. For these, the firm controls the bid/ask spread, and selling can be expensive.
On the other hand, you should never have the brokerage firm sell individual stocks or bonds because they will charge you their commission rate on the sale. It will be a large multiple of the $10 to $15 commissions you will be paying if you sell the securities out of your new account. Make certain that you have your original cost basis information in your possession before moving the account.