Most financial services firms tout their independence and how they are always looking to do what is in the best interests of their clients. But the truth, of course, isn’t so simple.

Let’s start by busting a few myths about adviser independence. First may be the myth that because someone practices as a fee-only adviser that they are completely independent. In theory, of course that would be true. But in practice, I’ve seen independent fee-only advisers whose independence may be compromised because of limited product knowledge or using the same cast of characters for commission business or other services without offering a choice of others who may be equally or more competent.

Next is the myth that an adviser who earns commissions is not independent. This may or may not be true. The best way for an adviser compensated by commissions to be independent is to represent and evaluate every possible product or company for client solutions and to fully disclose any compensation from the use of that product.

There are a few different levels of independence. Beyond the whole issue of the commission itself, the next issue is what products or services are offered by an adviser’s firm. For example, if an independent company only represents a few companies in any given area, is the adviser or that firm truly independent? I would argue not.

If the solutions presented to you always have the same brand name, there is a good possibility that your adviser is not acting independently. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for any one company to manufacture the best in class for the entire range of financial products. Ask to see some alternatives if you want to test this.

Many financial firms tout themselves as financial planners when in reality they are product salesman using a consultative selling process that mimics comprehensive financial planning.

This does not mean that all commission-based financial firms mask their true intentions behind the cloak of financial planning, but specifically ask if a written financial plan will be prepared for you. I don’t mean pages of numbers and forecasts. I mean a document written in plain English that spells out your situation, goals and objectives, alternatives and specific recommendations. Be very direct and ask specifically if an adviser will put their advice in writing.

Napier Financial is an independent full-service wealth manager and a fiduciary.  We act as a financial “head coach”, overseeing and manage all facets of our clients’ financial lives.  Interested in learning more?  Reach out to Alex Weiss at or 781.884.2356.


John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST is Founder and Chairman of Napier Financial in Braintree, MA.  Visit for more information. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investment and financial planning advice offered through US Financial Advisors and Great Valley Advisor Group,  Registered Investment Advisors.

By John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST Founder & Chairman Read More