Congratulations Priscilla C. Brannon, CFP®, MS

Priscilla C. Brannon, CFP®, MS, Associate Advisor,

On December 18, 2015, this was in my email.

“Hello. My name is Priscilla Brannon and I am writing this email to express interest in your firm. I am scheduled to graduate from Texas Tech University with my master’s in PFP in May 2016. As I have begun my search on what I want to do and where I want to go, I have narrowed down a few desires that fit perfectly with Resource Advisory Services.

I have an immense passion for helping people and an even greater passion for being able to offer assistance in the financial field. Due to this calling I am certain I would like to work for a fee-only firm. I was searching through NAPFA’s opportunities page and I came across an immediate opportunity posting. Although I would not be available until almost June, I wanted to reach out and let you know I am looking for what Resource Advisory Services has to offer.”

The email conversation lasting about a month before our first phone conversation. Bryan and I were more optimistic with every exchange. At first, I was surprised someone who would receive a Master of Financial Planning from anywhere would be interested in the posting, let alone Texas Tech. I knew some of the faculty there and consider them the best. We were thinking we might be starting with someone who had a business degree – maybe with enough progress toward their CFP® to demonstrate commitment. Nevertheless, here she was responding with more and more text that lined up with our culture. She would be moving far from her roots. Yet, her apparent enthusiasm continued to grow.

Friends encouraged Priscilla to explore other possibilities and her supervisor at work encouraged her to stay there. We believed we wanted her to come here but were not quite sure. The emails continued. We invited Priscilla to visit Knoxville in March. The visit went well, and we offered her the position. I thought she would never actually say yes. This was a big decision for someone her age. She went to Dallas for a financial planning jobs fair and that scared us, especially when we learned she would visit one of those firms. There was relief, when we detected that she was unimpressed. When Priscilla agreed to accept our position, it was a huge liberation. Looking back, I don’t think she ever really considered going anywhere else. I know we essentially stopped considering responses to our job posting within a couple of weeks after the first email. It simply always seemed this was a relationship that was meant to mature.

Priscilla came on board June 10, 2016, almost six months after her first contact and nine months after we started developing a written description of the position we wanted to fill and the person who could thrive in it. She turned out to be all we wanted and more, passing the CFP exam on her first attempt, six months after graduation. Bryan and I have devoted a great deal of time to mentoring Priscilla. We have given her every work and continuing education experience we can. Her comfort in the job has grown. She has bonded with friends, clients, East Tennessee and hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Two years after graduation Priscilla has the required work experience and received the notification that she is a CFP® on May 17. The time, energy and exploratory stress have been worth it all. I am very proud of the way all this has worked out. She can be contacted with

J. David Lewis, Founder/Principal

My Fiduciary Advocacy Trip to Washington

On Thursday April 5, I was at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in Washington, on an Institute for the Fiduciary Standard mission. Our relationship is at this link.  Since before 2010, there has been a movement to improve fiduciary protection for investors.  The crux is lack of clear ways to distinguish levels of care required among people who appear to be advising in financial services.  Sales people are paid for selling financial products.  Their standard of care is “suitability.”  In a shoe store, this might mean: “These shoes are almost the right size.”   We know they are selling and get paid more for selling more shoes, not giving advice.  In financial services, sales people can use titles like “advisor” and trappings to imply they are helping make the best decisions.  Fiduciary advisors are required to be diligent in understanding what is best and give advice – not sell.  It is very difficult for most people to know the difference.

The 2010 effort to improve these differences in power, between sales people and their customers, got bogged down. Yet, the movement persisted.  A Department of Labor (DOL) push was underway when I joined the NAPFA Board of Directors in 2013.  DOL could at least focus on retirement accounts.  True to its 1983 roots, NAPFA was vocal on these fiduciary issues.  Ultimately, the DOL issued regulations, reasonably well designed to phase in fiduciary protections for retirement accounts, including IRAs.  Sales organizations pushed back in many ways, including the courts.

In the meantime, the SEC, which regulates both sales organizations (broker-dealers) and investment advisors, has been ramping up its attention to fiduciary issues for both. The phases of the DOL regulations were delayed in 2017.  An array of court cases brought differing decisions on whether the DOL Fiduciary Rule would survive.  On March 15, a court ruling may have ended the DOL protections, essentially because current DOL leadership does not seem inclined to resolve the differing decisions in higher courts.

Because Bryan encouraged me, I volunteered to participate in meetings with the SEC’s Division of Trading & Markets, Division of Investment Management and Office of Investor Advocate. One regulates sales organizations.  One regulates investment advisors, like Resource Advisory Services. The third is a voice for the public.  It was an extraordinarily interesting experience.  Unlike many beliefs I hear, I found the staffs very dedicated to learning from our perspectives.  They did challenge us, with language that could seem to be planted by sales organizations.  I am not sure this is a bad thing, assuming they use our perspectives to challenge sales organizations.  The people I met certainly seemed committed to getting the final requirements right.  If they simply agreed with us, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.

I believe the fiduciary movement is making real progress. News coverage of DOL Fiduciary efforts alerted many to search for fiduciary advisors.  A few years ago, I regularly heard, “What does fiduciary mean?”  Now, frequent internet searches for “fiduciary” or “fee-only” advisors find us.  Many clearly understand.  Nevertheless, there is still confusion.  I am seeing “your best interest” in advertising.  Based on the organizations involved, some may be fiduciaries.  Others probably are not.

A part of our message to the SEC encouraged designating language reserved for fiduciaries that others cannot use to confuse whether they are sales people or advisors with fiduciary levels of care.  In our society, the majority tends to eventually get what they want and need.  In this case, I have faith people will find fiduciaries if the clues are clear.  It takes a lot of work and time to make this easier for people.

J. David Lewis (

Equifax and Personal Data Security

Equifax Assistant

Our Comment by J. David Lewis – Equifax reported a security breach that occurred several months ago. It set off shock and concern.  We, like virtually everyone, have seen many news items that repeat the same advice – check your credit reports, consider placing a credit freeze on your files, monitor your existing credit cards and bank account, consider a fraud alert and file your taxes early.  I have seen these discussed so many ways, I don’t see reason to repeat the details.  See them here.  Let’s put Personal Data Security into broader context.

Despite this being the largest data breach in history, it is one breach. There have been several recently.  It is reasonable to assume someone troublesome probably has much of our personal data already.  There is an Equifax website purporting to tell you whether your data was, may have been or probably was not breached – click here. We have a client phone call note that reads:

“He asked if I had used the website, or read the reviews, or looked at the small print at the bottom. His experience was that, after putting in everyone’s information the first time and recording the responses, he decided to try again, just to make sure.  The second time he put everyone’s info in, he received different answers.”

This is not comforting. The facts are, you cannot know whether your data was breached this time or years ago – maybe several times.  Experts think this data will probably not be used for months or years.  We will forget this breach, because there will be another – possibly bigger.  To believe you have the ability to know whether your data is secure creates more risks than assuming it has been breached. YOU have to watch for misuses, whether or not there was a recent breach.

Wow! Am I pessimistic or what?

A discipline of good personal data hygiene seems the most viable protection. These risks cannot be eliminated, only rendered less likely to disrupt our lives.  Therefore, the advice above is not just for this event.  It should be an ongoing part of our lives:

  • Check your credit reports – I have a phone app (Days Since Tasks) that gives a reminder to check a credit bureau report every four months. For example, my most recent was Equifax. It took about 30 minutes to download and review the report. When I clicked the reminder complete, it was moved forward a year, for another free Equifax report.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files – I have not personally done this, but am considering it. My credit reports list organizations that got reports. Some seem odd and may contribute to my junk mail. Emily Watts, in our office, can discuss her interesting previous work experience, approving loans when she encountered these freezes.
  • Monitor your existing credit cards and bank account – Virtually all client investment accounts we monitor are reviewed every day, for transactions inconsistent with our expectations. Similar reviews have been a part of my routine since Resource Advisory Services was small. I had to watch every penny. Most mornings, I download transactions from two bank accounts and three credit cards for household accounting software. Then I check the bank accounts and Resource Advisory Services credit cards online for pending transactions. This usually takes from 10 to 20 minutes. If I have bills to pay, it may take a little longer.
  • Consider a fraud alert – From what I see, this has a good chance of giving a false sense of security. Basically, it is putting a note in your file that says “be careful about my data.” I have put notes in my credit reports, calling attention to names I have never used. When I saw the notes in later reports, they were obscure. I cannot imagine anyone noticing. Finally, the erroneous names disappeared. Maybe something positive happened.
  • File your taxes early – I wish I could. I usually don’t have the information to file early. If you can, filing early is definitely good personal data hygiene. I personally know several cases where false returns were filed for refunds. Clearing those up is frustrating.

We can be disappointed in Equifax, Target, BlueCross BlueShield and whoever else has a future large or small data breach.  I have been to enough cybersecurity continuing education classes to be convinced none of these are carelessness.  They suffer tremendously, like we all do.  Your protection is not something you can offload to anyone.  There may be potential regulations that could help some, like the one that gets us free annual credit reports.  I don’t see an appetite for new regulation in our government these days.

It is up to you to develop a discipline of good personal data hygiene that gives you as much peace of mind as you can achieve, understanding that you will never have complete foolproof security.  We live in a dangerous world.  Consider which is more useful – time in social media or good personal data hygiene – while you sit waiting for the next explosion.

There is more to money than money®

Contact David Lewis with He is a passionate advocate for fiduciary, fee-only financial planning and has been associated with financial services since childhood in a banking family. He founded Resource Advisory Services in 1985.  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) was formed only a few years before. Lewis became a NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor in 1986. He served on its national Board of Directors from 2013 to 2016, has been its Treasurer and is currently on its Audit Committee.

Financial Advisor Fees & Fiduciary Best Practices

Be careful about any advisor who is shy about the cost of their services.

This is our third article in a series discussing our approach to the Institute for the Fiduciary Standard’s Best Practices.  Previous articles are 401(k) to IRA Rollovers and Fiduciary Standards and Communicating Fiduciary Advice – on our website.  Retirement account rollovers were used to illustrate the importance of having an advisor who actually puts their clients’ best interest first.  The way your advisor communicates with you, including about fees, is important for helping you understand issues that may color their advice in their favor.

Until recently we have been concerned that a 60-day delay in implementing the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule would foretell its demise. We are relieved that the delay will not be extended beyond June 9, 2017, when the provisions are scheduled to be effective.  Any advisor, to any retirement account, will be required to operate by the standards of the DOL Fiduciary Rule.  This is a huge step forward for retirement accounts.  The Fiduciary Best Practices are still very important.  Many investment decision do not involve retirement accounts and many financial decisions do not involve investments.  This article addresses Best Practice Item 4, which concerns the fees you pay for financial advice:

  1. Provide a written statement of total fees and underlying investment expenses paid by the client. Include any payments to the advisor or the firm or related parties from any third party resulting from the advisor’s recommendations.

Your advisor provides a good faith estimate of fees and expenses in writing during the starting phase of the engagement when the investment policy is agreed to. Thereafter, your advisor will offer to all clients and will provide, upon request, an annual good faith estimate in writing of total fees and expenses incurred by each client and paid to the firm or related parties because of my advice.

Resource Advisory Services never receives any compensation from any provider of investment products or services we recommend to clients – in keeping with the NAPFA Fiduciary Oath as published on our website.  We also adhere to the related CFP® Fee-Only method of compensation.

From the beginning of Resource Advisory Services, complete fees transparency has been our policy. We abandon estimates of hourly fees for projects, because we do not want clients making these decisions without a statement of the actual cost.  We are in this business and have the most control over our expenses.  We should clearly state the total cost of our Recommendations Reports and put the amount in your engagement agreement.  Guidelines for Recommendations Report Fees are available on our website.

We become quite specific about fees when we describe Ongoing Relationships within Recommendations Reports.  At that point, we are able to give a clear statement for the first year’s most likely total fees – in dollars – with our estimate of the range that can be reasonably expected.  The higher end of the range would imply greater wealth than expected, while the lower end would imply weaker results.  Each Quarterly Report includes a clear statement of total fees paid to Resource Advisory Services during the preceding twelve months – also in dollars. Guidelines for these fees are at Retainer Relationship Fees on our website.

We are comprehensive financial planners.  Transparency about fees means you should understand clearly what you will receive and what you will pay.  We are a resource that provides advice and service – Resource Advisory Services.  Although we manage investments, we believe investment management is no more that 50% of the value derived by our clients.  Click “What to Expect” above for more.

There is more to money than money®.

Contact J. David Lewis with He is a passionate advocate for fiduciary, fee-only financial planning and has been associated with financial services since childhood in a banking family.  He founded Resource Advisory Services in 1985.  National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) was formed only a few years before. Lewis became a NAPFA-Registered Financial Advisor in 1986.  From September 2013 through August 2016, he served on its National Board of Directors. 

Communicating Fiduciary Advice

Resource Advisory Services has been proud to be a fiduciary since its founding. In 2016, we subscribed to The Institute for the Fiduciary Standard Best Practices, which are a clear code of conduct for what you should expect from your advisor. Recently we used 401(k) to IRA Rollovers, to illustrate the importance of these Best Practices for one type of transaction, where non-fiduciary advice costs consumers a great deal in unnecessary expense. That blog is one example of the broader standards you should expect in fiduciary commitment to your best interest whenever you get advice for any financial matters.  The second and third Best Practices further describes the experience you should get from your advisor. What to Expect, on the tab above, follows our typical relationships from your initial interest in being our client through an ongoing relationship. There, you can see how these next two Best Practices are woven throughout our work:

2.  Establish and document a “reasonable basis” for advice in the best interest of the client. Advice is given on a “reasonable basis” and a summary of this “reasonable basis” will be provided by your advisor, in writing, upon request.

3.  Communicate clearly and truthfully, both orally and in writing. Do not mislead. Make all disclosures and important agreements in writing. All important client agreements and disclosures are put in writing and no written or verbal statements are misleading.

For us, routine written delivery of the basis for our advice is a part of our workflow – not just on request. Before my earliest experience as a financial advisor, I understood that writing forces a very high level of discipline.  It helps develop and communicate the reasons our advice is the best advice we can give.  Writing enhances clarity for us advisors as much as it documents the basis for our recommendations.  If we cannot articulate our reasons in text, the advice probably needs more work to be sure it is in the best interest of our client. At the beginning of each relationship, we write specifically for each individual client’s situations in a Recommendations Reports, using language tailored specifically to their situation and ability to understand. Our Quarterly Reports continue by building a written diary for ongoing relationships.

Often, we want couples to discuss our advice in private, before a meeting with us. This gives an opportunity to consider the need for clarification in the meeting.  When we sit down together, they usually have an understanding of the issues and have done much of the work for both to be comfortable with the decisions made.  Then, we and our clients can revisit what was understood years after decisions were made.

Things don’t always go as expected. This gets to Best Practice Number 3.  When we are giving advice or reporting results, we know we must be very careful to avoid anything that might be misleading or misunderstood.  With our style of writing, we are forced to look for language that might unintentionally mislead.  As we monitor clients’ relationships, we have documents to compare what was expected with what actually happens.  It is easy to imagine things are on track when they are not.  Knowing we have written about our expectations holds us accountable to the things we said in giving advice.  If things are going off track, we and our clients are more likely to recognize when an adjustment is needed, instead of that uneasy feeling when we are not quite sure we remember what was said a few months ago.  The documents can reassure us, pinpoint why there is misunderstanding about what we expected and help find the best resolution if a change is needed.

The development of these Best Practices promises to be a reliable way people can know whether their advisor is truly acting in their best interest – A FIDUCIARY.

J. David Lewis, Principal