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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Evaluating Financial Education Workshops

How do you evaluate your sources of financial information? How do you "investigate" a person teaching a financial workshop? I recently received an email from a library that I have partnered with in the past. They were contacted by a man offering to teach a series of workshops about retirement planning at the library. He would charge participants a registration fee, which would be passed through to the library. Essentially, he was offering to teach the classes for free. The library wanted to know whether I had heard about this program before, and what I thought about it.

I started to reply with my gut reaction after reading the description. But then I realized that this was a great opportunity to practice what I preach, to evaluate this person and this workshop the way I tell consumers to.

First, I simply read over the information provided by the would-be presenter. The language was pretty vague and somewhat alarmist. I was concerned about several things – mainly what was not said. The email and attachment repeatedly referred to "conservative investing" as if it were an accepted investment strategy like diversification or dollar cost averaging. It isn't. And nowhere was the term explained. The presenter was described as a financial planner with extensive client experience, but there was no mention of any qualifications such as registrations, licenses, or certifications.

A book was listed as the course material. I googled the title and found it for sale, but I could find no comments or reviews about it. The table of contents and the pages I was able to view see were just like the syllabus – vague, alarmist language, not much concrete info.

Then, I investigated the presenter using what I learned from developing the website, Choosing a Financial Professional, with my colleague Kathy Sweedler. The results? The presenter is not a registered investment advisor. Neither is he is a registered representative (broker). Therefore, he cannot give investment advice (there are some exceptions) or sell any securities (investments). But he is licensed by the State of Illinois to sell life insurance.

Taken together, these issues raised a lot of red flags for me. My best guess is that program is about selling certain types of annuities that are regulated as insurance products and not as securities.

I get invitations to various kinds of financial workshops as a private individual. I read them with a critical eye, but I've never attended any of them. I'd be interested in your experiences How did you decide whether to attend? Did you feel you got education, or a sales pitch? What suggestions do you have about how to pick the good ones? Please click "Comment" below to share your thoughts. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

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