Friday, January 26, 2007

The best investment advice you'll never get

Solli took one look at my unkempt collection of mut­ual funds and said, “You’re being robbed here.” He pointed to funds I had purchased from or through Putnam, Merrill Lynch, Dreyfus, and—yes—Charles Schwab (which referred me to Aperio) and asked, “Do you know that you’re paying these guys to do essentially nothing?” He carefully explained the many ingenious ways fund managers, brokers, and advisers had found to chip away at investors’ returns. Turns out that I, like more than 90 million other suckers who have put close to $9 trillion into mutual funds, was paying annual fees, commissions, and transaction costs well in excess of 2 percent a year on most of my mutual funds (see “What Are the Fees?” page 75). “Do you know what that adds up to?” Solli asked. “At the end of every 36 years, you will only have made half of what you could have, through no fault of your own. And these are fees you needn’t pay, and won’t, if you switch to index funds.”

If Solli is an industry gadfly, Geddes, a modest, unassuming son of a United Church of Christ minister, is its chainsaw massacrer. “We work in the most overcompensated industry in the country,” Geddes admitted before the water was served, “and indexing threatens the revenue flow from managed funds to brokerage houses. That’s why you’ve been kept in the dark about it. This truly is the great secret shame of our business.

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