I wrote a column about two years ago about free dinner seminars. If you are over 55 you know about these free dinner invitations you used to get in the mail. You show up for a free dinner but you have to sit through a not so subtle sales pitch for annuities or some other high commission investment product. Most consumers have become wary of these seminars.

Financial advisers and insurance agents have found a new and better way to attract potential business. The “educational seminar” doesn’t cost them as much and yields much better results. I don’t know about you but I have been bombarded with invitations for these things lately. I get them in the mail, hear about them on the radio and they are marketed on social media, particularly on Facebook. They are really slick.

They invite you to a retirement “class” or “workshop” to educate you about Social Security or how to save taxes after you retire. They avoid the word seminar because that cuts down on the number of people willing to attend. They usually are held at an educational institution to give the impression that these financial advisers are legitimate educators. They may even be sponsored by an educational institution or a non-profit organization.

The nonprofit sponsors I have seen actually are set up by financial advisers to sell “educational materials” to other financial advisers wanting to attract business. Advertising that the “workshop” is being sponsored by a nonprofit makes it look more trustworthy and increases attendance. Especially if you have a slick website to back it up. Likewise, having a class at a college or even being sponsored by a college gives an adviser instant credibility. We are trained to take someone standing in front of us in a classroom like a professor seriously. But this is not your regular adult education class like beginning knitting or photography. This is a class taught by someone with a lot to gain financially by “teaching.”

I don’t know why colleges support theses advisers. If educational institutions want to provide needed information to the community and have retirement classes, why don’t they get an instructor that has no financial conflict of interest? Would people go to the same “class” if it were held in a hotel or restaurant meeting room instead of a college? I doubt it. The advisers need the validity of the educational environment to attract people.

The “classes” or “workshops” may be part of a “seminar kit” any financial adviser can buy. They get the books, the slides, the videos, the teaching script and a mailing list of people with money, postcards that they mail out and the social media marketing campaign targeted to certain people. So if you have some money and are over 55 years old, you are seeing these invitations because you are the target.

You think you are getting education in a “no sales” environment but it’s really a carefully crafted rouse to get you to buy what the financial adviser is selling. And what they are selling is fear of the unknown. If you don’t come to the class you will miss out on the secret of Social Security or pay too much in taxes. The purpose of the class is to convince you that you need to go see this financial adviser. It’s clever and it really works.

There is not much money in helping you with Social Security or taxes. They are using this educational process to establish themselves as an expert, get you into their office and sell you money management products, annuities and insurance because that’s where the money is.

Bill Oldfather is a fee-only fiduciary financial planner and investment adviser. Oldfather Financial Services is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser based in Kearney.


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