Is This Financial Planning Dinner Worth It?

Are financial planning dinners only worth the free food?

A new study finds the healthiest diets cost individuals $1.50 more per day than less healthy options.

Financial planning dinners may sound appetizing, but are they actually informative?

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In today’s mail, there were not one, but two invitations to retirement dinner seminars. One was from a representative of a well-known insurance company. The other was from a registered representative with a local fee-and-commission financial advisor.

I have never attended one of these sessions as I don’t want to stick the presenter with the cost of feeding me when I am clearly not going to engage his or her services (I’m an advisor). However, both seminars are at local restaurants where I really like the food. In fact my wife saw one of the invitations and immediately wanted to go, for the free dinner at least.

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How do these sessions work? Although I’ve never attended one, I can’t say for sure how the evening would go. But looking at the details of the event put on by the insurance guy, I see his guest speaker is an experienced estate planning attorney. I suspect after a brief introduction by the insurance guy, the attorney will speak for a while. Although there will be nothing sold according to the invitation, clearly there will be a follow-up call encouraging you to schedule a meeting with one or both of these folks. And that makes sense: Why else would they spend the money and their time on this session?

What’s in it for them? For the insurance agent and the registered representative this is fertile ground to sell annuities of various types including fixed, variable, and equity-indexed. Additionally, both would be able to offer a variety of investment and insurance-related products.

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For the estate planning attorney, there could be work from attendees needing various estate planning documents ranging from a will to a living trust. If the attorney is insurance or security-licensed he could potentially get a piece of the action from the insurance salesperson as well.

Should you attend? If you really like the restaurant or if you really think that you will learn something, perhaps. But is this really a good way to find a financial advisor or estate planning attorney who is right for your situation? Such seminars are often mass-produced. You have to wonder if the advice dispensed is same at all of them. Further, if you look somewhere at the bottom of any invitation that you receive, you will likely notice that the person sponsoring the session is paid commission for selling financial products.

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Finding the right financial advisor is not always easy, but taking the easy way out is not the right answer either. Check out National Association of Personal Financial Advisors for a list of fee-only financial advisors in your area (full disclosure: I’m one of these as well) and be sure to check out this guide to finding the right advisor for you.