What Gives Personal Finance Bloggers the Right to be So Arrogant?

Image of a part of a keyboard with "who is accountable" written on a key I published the following article in March 2019 after a run-in with some of the FIRE bloggers. I decided to republish the post after even more arrogance reared its ugly head this week.

Steve Adcock, a good friend and business partner published an article on MarketWatch recently that lit up some crazy comments and criticism, both on the article itself and Twitter. The comments were full of judgment, falsehoods, and jealousy. It was crazy! You can read the article that ruffled so many feathers here on TMM.

I get so tired of people trying to discredit or tear down someone who does something they don’t agree with. In Steve’s case, he was accused of not really being retired. Oh really? What gives anyone else the right to define what retirement is and isn’t? Or what is or isn’t a high income? What income makes it easy to retire early, and what income doesn’t? Seriously! Can’t we celebrate the things people look at as successful, even if we don’t agree with it? Has jealousy crept into our psyches so deeply that we have to tear others down to make ourselves feel good?

Fraud in Personal Finance

A few years ago, LendEdu got in hot water for creating a fictitious character, Drew Cloud, who they pawned off as an expert on all things finance. He got quoted in various major news outlets, including CNBC. The problem was, he wasn’t real. They got busted in 2018. You’d think they would learn from that and change. They didn’t.

This week brought more bad press for Nate Matheson and his company, LendEdu. As it turns out, Nate and his cronies “allegedly” set up a “pay to play” scheme that took money from companies to move them to the top of the rating list for their category. According to this CNN article, they settled the case for $350,000.

Nate aggressively reached out to bloggers offering to guest post on their sites. He offered nothing in return, just to give bloggers a post. Surely, this recent bad press would stop them, right? Well, not exactly. Just today (February 6, 2020), we got an outreach email to our TMM address from someone at LendEdu wanting us to put one of their articles on our site. Geez, people!

Aight! Today’s rant is over. What follows is the article originally published in March 2019. Based on the recent events I’ve just described, it seems not much has changed.

What Gives Personal Finance Bloggers the Right to be Arrogant?

It seems I’m going through a period lately where things are bothering me. Today, I’m stepping into a hallowed ground by challenging the attitude of some of my fellow personal finance bloggers. I find a subset of them that is incredibly arrogant. For the life of me, I can’t understand why.

Here’s how the story unfolded.

Today’s post (or rant if you prefer) came as the result of my financial advisory firm’s routine audit, which wrapped up this week. Let’s be clear. The only people to whom an audit is routine are the auditors. The one getting audited does not share that opinion.

When I got out of my audit and back to the office, I saw an article from one of my good blogger friends, Jimmy, over at The Physician Philosopher. You may remember Jimmy. He’s an anesthesiologist who got through med school reading at the bottom 5% of his class. I interviewed him on the blog about his experience last year. It was an inspiring story. At the time of the interview, he was an anonymous blogger. He has since identified himself.

The Controversy

Anyway, the title of the article is Why Some Financial Advisors Are Better than Others. I agreed with much of what he said. I did, however, take issue with some of it. He welcomed comments and dialogue. I’m not sure he expected my responses. He was gracious in his response back to me. He listened to my arguments, voiced what he agreed with, and let me know the things he didn’t. That kind of healthy exchange seems rare these days.

Jimmy is one of the bloggers for whom I have a great deal of respect. He’s not afraid to mix it up, defend his positions, and take as much as he gives. As we debated topics with each other over the last year or so, our friendship grew. He reminds me of a younger version of myself.

And let me be clear. Jimmy is not one I’m putting into the category of an arrogant personal finance blogger. Like me, he has strong opinions. He does not let those opinions move into arrogance. Some of his brethren in the physician blogger space fall short of the arrogance piece.

Alright. With that background and my defense of my good friend Jimmy, let’s have at it.

My Chippy mood

Have you ever watched a team sporting event (basketball, football, etc.) where the announcers said, “it’s getting a bit chippy out there?” That’s kind of where I am right now. I’m feeling a bit chippy.

Usually, I don’t play the blame game. I’m going to make an exception this time and point to another one of my blogger friends, ESI Money. I love his blog and read it a lot. ESI made my top ten most of the most influential bloggers. He wrote a post last week about people wanting results but not wanting to change. He opened the post with the following: “OK. I’m feeling a bit ranty today.” So out of convenience, I’m going to blame ESI Money for me feeling a bit ranty lately. Or, if you prefer, a bit chippy.

In some ways, I may be calling out myself. I can be a bit opinionated at times (no surprise to those who know me). I do my best to be respectful and argue my points with passion backed by logic or data (see intro). Some people would say I fail at that at times. I’m OK with the criticism. Sometimes I deserve it, and it forces me to think about the way I’m presenting things.

Accountability

After reading Jimmy’s post and thinking about the hundreds, if not thousands of other posts I’ve read over the years, it dawned on me. These bloggers can say anything they want with no accountability to anyone for whether it’s the truth or not.

And please. Let me be clear again in case you missed it. I’m not talking about Jimmy at The Physician Philosopher and or ESI Money. The audit reminded me that I’m accountable to the Commonwealth of Virginia for what I say and do around personal finance, investing, and other related topics.

And as hard as it was getting everything together for the audit, I’m glad I’m in a business that has accountability.

The contrast

Herein lies my issue with the nonregulated personal finance blogger space. They are not accountable to anyone. I’m sure they would argue that they’re accountable to their readers. True enough. If a visitor doesn’t like what they read on my or any other blog, there are plenty of other options a click away.

Here’s the difference. They won’t get sanctioned or worse if they put out inaccurate information. Depending on who holds the firm’s registration, that could happen to a blogger/advisor giving bad advice. Or even good advice that people acted on and had a bad result. At the very least, the violation will be noted on their registration documents, as are complaints from clients or prospective clients. That’s why I recommend that people check the regulators as a starting point when looking for a competent advisor.

There is no vetting mechanism in place for bloggers.

Regulation

Should the personal finance blogosphere be regulated? That’s an argument for another day. I’m not a big fan of burdensome regulation. I do, however, think there should be some accountability for bloggers giving financial advice.

Other bloggers have written about this. Steve at Think Save Retire, (you can now find Steve here)  wrote one last year saying we don’t need any more personal finance advice. In another article, Steve talks about breaking through the relentless personal finance echo chamber. Both of these are great reads from a respected member of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community.

Steve and his wife, Courtney, retired from the corporate world in their early thirties. They now travel the country in a 200 square foot Airstream trailer. Steve, like many early retirees, will tell you he’s not retired, just doing things he loves to do.

He’s open and honest about the shortcomings of the community, of which he’s an active member. That’s rare and refreshing.

The Echo Chamber

Speaking of the echo chamber, it seems the vast majority of the personal finance space spends most of their time there. Many of them are Dave Ramsey’s disciples. Dave Ramsey has helped thousands upon thousands of people get out of debt. He’s the father of the snowball method used by his students to eliminate that debt. He advocates what he calls seven baby steps to get on the road to financial freedom. All of these seven steps are sound.

A few, not many, bloggers have challenged Dave on some of his ways. Some have talked about how he demeans and berates those who make mistakes outside of the Ramsey way. Others have challenged him on his investment advice. He advocates using load mutual funds (with sales charges) that most financial bloggers think are the closest thing to the devil himself. His asset allocation suggestions put conservative people at risk of losing more than they thought or could handle.

Challenge him at your peril. A couple of bloggers wrote reasonable, thoughtful posts challenging some of Dave’s advice. The posts were well written, and the points well-argued. When Dave or someone in his organization got wind of it, they blocked these bloggers from Dave’s Twitter account. Yup. It happened. I saw the Tweets that showed the block.

At last year’s FinCon conference, which is the whos-who conference for bloggers and financial media, Dave Ramsey’s organization was everywhere. He’s like a deity in large parts of the community. His daughter was a speaker. Chris Hogan was the closing keynote speaker. I felt like I needed to genuflect when I was around them. It’s crazy.

For the vast majority of the personal finance community, it seems challenging Dave is off-limits.

The Three-Fund Portfolio

Another sacred cow with personal finance bloggers is the concept of the three fund portfolio. The three-fund portfolio came out of the Boglehead community and has been enthusiastically adopted by many in the blogosphere. Bogleheads got its name from Jack Bogle, founder of the index fund giant Vanguard Funds. The three-fund portfolio consists of three Vanguard funds:

  • (VTSAX) Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
  • (VTIAX) Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund
  • (VBTLX) Vanguard Total Bond Market Fund

All three funds are index funds. Vanguard funds are among the lowest cost funds available. The theory of the three-fund portfolio says that the vast majority of mutual funds underperform the market (that’s true). The way to beat them is to invest in the market and get what it offers.

In my financial advice business, I implement a market-based investment approach. It is not, however, the three-fund strategy. There is little discussion of risk or how to allocate your money across the three funds or what kind of return one needs to accomplish a goal. Generally, the FIRE community uses a simplified goal of accumulating 25x your annual expenses so you can live off 4% of that and not touch your principal. I don’t have the time or space to talk about the holes in this strategy.

I’ve had some conversations with bloggers about it. It was like I was looking into the eyes of a deer caught in the headlights. There’s almost a Zen-like persona that surfaces in some when you dare to challenge this prevailing view.

Hypocrisy

I’ll give you two glaring examples of hypocrisy in the personal finance blogging space.

Dave Ramsey

A great example is a worshipful attitude many have toward Dave and his methods. Even though he advocates selling A-share load mutual funds (see Echo Chamber, Three-fund portfolio above), there a precious few bloggers who write anything questioning this advice.

On the other hand, I’ve seen numerous articles denigrating load funds and actively managed funds as enriching those who sell them while ripping off those who invest in them. Can someone help me understand why, even though Mr. Ramsey advocates these funds, he gets a pass?

They went after Suze Orman en masse with laser-like focus when she challenged the FIRE community but not Dave Ramsey.

Maybe they are afraid to poke the bear. He’s a big one for sure. I’m confused by it.

But then I’m a Boomer. We’re easily confused.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital is both a technology company and a registered investment advisor. They offer a free financial tool for investors to track their net worth, investments, loans, and all things personal finance. You can link all of your accounts and see everything in one place. You can even track your budget. It’s a fantastic tool. And they offer the tool for free.

Some bloggers rail against financial advisors whose compensation is the assets under management (AUM) fee structure. That means they get paid by charging a fee based on the assets they manage for a client. Physician bloggers, in particular, speak out forcefully against this method.

I believe in choice. They seem to disagree when it comes to advisor fees. Here’s a suggestion. Speak your mind about your preferences, tell people why you believe it’s right, choose the way you want to go, and let other people make their decisions. Stop shaming people for making decisions differently than you, even if it’s choosing advisor under the AUM model.

I was part of the What’s Up Next Podcast with three other financial advisors who had a healthy discussion around whether the blogosphere is fair to the advice community. I’d encourage you to listen to the podcast. You’ll get a good sense from the four of us on what it’s like to be bloggers and advisors in the community.

Affiliate revenue

The hypocrisy?

Personal Capital manages close to $8 billion under the assets under management fee structure. Almost every blogger who uses them personally is an affiliate marketer for them. Affiliate marketers get paid a commission every time someone buys something from a vendor. In this case, if someone clicks a link to Personal Capital from a blogger’s site and opens an account, they get a commission from it. For many of these bloggers, it is one of their most lucrative sources of revenue.

I don’t have a problem with bloggers making money from affiliate marketing. I have affiliate links on my site too. However, I do find it ironic that they promote a company that grew to be one of the largest in the industry by managing money under the AUM model they hate so much.

Maybe it’s their passive-aggressive way of poking the bear that is the AUM model by only using their free tool while they get paid to promote it.

Many bloggers don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with that. Trust me. A regulator would.

A Notable Exception

Like in any group, the extremes often get the most press. This article fits into that category. There are far more personal finance bloggers who are helpful and show humility in their writing. Most care deeply about the content they write and how it helps their readers.

And not all who recommend Personal Capital fit into the category I’ve just described. A notable exception is Physician on Fire. In fact, in a recent article, When Your Income Becomes Your Enemy, he goes out of his way to disclose his affiliate relationship with Personal Capital, what he liked about them, what he didn’t like about them and the fact that he got paid for recommending them.

That’s one of the many reasons I love PoF and his blog. He’s honest, has humility, writes detailed, well-researched articles that help physicians and anyone interested in taking care of their personal finances.

Arrogance

The arrogance I see in some circles comes when some of us challenge the conventional wisdom and accepted methods of the FIRE and personal finance blogging community. There seems little room for other views. When those views get spoken, the junk hits the fan. In the podcast I mentioned earlier, Doc G, the host, asked me about an interaction I had at FinCon with Mr. Money Mustache. Many consider Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) to be the father of the FIRE movement. I have the utmost amount of respect for Pete and the movement that took off from his blog.

Pete was on a panel with four other great bloggers. During the Q & A, someone asked him why there was tension between the financial advice and blogging community. Pete was the first to answer. His answer made the hair on my neck stand up. He spouted off a litany of things that financial advisors do; things like, they don’t want you to retire. They want to keep managing your money forever. They sell you stuff you don’t need. You get the picture.

Our Encounter

After the discussion, I approached Pete at the table privately. I asked him why he had such an attitude about financial advisors; that I was an advisor and in my 30-year career had never done any of the things he just described. I challenged him on living in the bubble of the Fire community, which maybe represents 3% – 5% of the public. There are a ton of people outside the community that read his blog. Many of them need the help of a financial advisor. I challenged him to use his massive platform to educate those people on how to find a competent advisor.

He politely listened and ended with, “maybe I should write a blog post about that.” To date, I haven’t seen the post. Maybe Pete’s just too busy.

Open Mind

Where I live, the primary employer is the Federal government and contractors that serve it. What’s wrong with people in those jobs working for as long as they want and retiring with a comfortable pension, full health care benefits, and plenty of time to enjoy them?

Here’s a news flash, Y’all.

We’re living well into our eighties and nineties these days. That’s a lot of years to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Contrary to the mindset of many younger bloggers, retirees in the traditional sense are having a ball in retirement. Most of them are happy and very content with the decisions they’ve made on their career.

I love that you spend less than you make, save and invest the difference, and reduce or eliminate your debt. Those are great things to be doing. You are a minority – a growing one, but still a tiny minority. Live the way you want. Teach others how you’re doing it. Let them decide if they wish to follow it or not.

Stop speaking badly about those who don’t. Some people live paycheck to paycheck. They’re working hard, contributing to society and doing the best they can.

Final Thoughts

Please don’t mistake my post as a slam on the personal finance blogger community or the entirety of the FIRE community. I’m a personal finance blogger too. We all learn from each other, and we should all be willing to hear views different from our own. All I’m asking us to do is engage in a bit of self-examination.

The vast majority of the bloggers I read are Millennials writing to a Millennial audience. I wrote a post about how my attitude toward Millennials changed when I met some of the bloggers I now call friends. Most of what I read in the personal finance space is good.

It baffles me how some in the community speak harshly about those that disagree with them but overlook the hypocrisy of their own blogs. Speak your minds, talk about how you’ve done it, help other people who come to your blog. Don’t shame people when they go a different way than you.

Toward the end of the year, I read posts of several bloggers encouraging people to give back. I agree with them. Here’s an idea on how to do that.

Take the knowledge and skills you have about personal finance and teach them to the middle, high school, and college kids at your church, synagogue, or other places of worship. Alternatively, find a neighborhood community center and teach people there.

We all talk about how there is a lack of education about personal finance. Here’s our chance to do something about it. Let’s have a little more empathy. Let’s help those outside our spheres of influence. Let’ teach those who need our help.

Now it’s your turn. Have at me. I know I’ve ruffled some feathers. Where did I go wrong? Do you see any hypocrisy here?

28 thoughts on “What Gives Personal Finance Bloggers the Right to be So Arrogant?

  1. Well done, Fred! You’re right, there’s a lot of blanket advice and shaming that gets disseminated in and around the personal finance community. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my time here, it’s that everybody’s situation is just so, so different.

    And, just because somebody does something differently doesn’t make them any less informed or stupid. It just means they’ve been exposed to very different things in life. Different upbringing. And, all of that exposure builds our outlook on life and the decisions that we make. We make decisions in large part due to our past.

    When we give advice or spout off on our blogs, we’re spouting off based on *our own experience*, but that won’t necessarily match someone else’s, and it also doesn’t mean our advice is any more sound or appropriate than the next bloggers.

    I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) to:

    * Take everything that I read on blogs with a gigantic grain of salt
    * Let people live their lives in whatever way they want (because they will anyway), and
    * Not assume that if someone’s doing something different, that it’s inferior to the way I do things

    Trust me, I wasn’t always like this. In the past, I was a very passive aggressive and judgmental person. But, this is one of those things that the personal finance community has helped me to overcome.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Great insight. I’ve certainly been guilty of judgmental attitudes. I’m sure that many reading this post would put it in that category. I appreciate your post on the subject, which is why I included a couple. I’ve made a lot of friends and learned a lot from the personal finance blogging community.

      I hope this spurs conversation and some self-reflection in all of us. There is room for many voices. I value those voices. As a financial advisor, I guess I’d just reached my limit. 😀

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

  2. I really appreciate your “rant.” We’ve experienced the attack that can happen when you step outside conventional personal finance blogger wisdom. While I think the ideas of financial independence are great and that everyone should encourage people to move toward that, you correctly point out that those striving for FIRE are a tiny minority. Not only do many people not want to live the way you’d need to retire early, many people are unable to. Then again, I’ve also seen some posts where bloggers basically tell their readers to do whatever makes them happy, which I would disagree with as well. I think the overall point of our community is to provide multiple voices and perspectives so that readers can find what fits best for their situation, and we should all be open to the idea that what we write may not resonate with everyone.

  3. The FIRE movement is still in its infancy and as such the community seems to react like an infant sometimes. There is a lot of unquestioned ideas (such as all financial advisers are greedy and out to get your money, and VTSAX is the holy grail of retirement investments) that get accepted as “doctrine”. Woe be to you if you question that doctrine.

    I worry that my generation’s (the Millennials) propensity to feel personally attacked when their ideas are questioned is partly to blame here. But I have hope that we can move past that and have open discussions about ideas like this.

    Thanks for opening the conversation, I look forward to the dialogue.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve noticed a bit of thin skin in some areas of the community. All in all, though, I think they provide a good service. I tire of the attitude toward my industry. Granted, we’ve done a lot to deserve it. There too many times when incidents individuals have turned into indictments of an entire industry. That’s the easy way out.

      I appreciate the dialogue and hope it continues.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

  4. Well said, Fred. And an important topic. I’m glad you were feeling rant-y.

    I’m a female boomer with a two Millennial children. I’ve had my ear to the personal-finance ground for a long time and have been an on-and-off blogger/list-serv participant for 20+ years. It’s an arena that is largely male-dominated and frequently toxic. Men swinging their you-know-what’s around, puffing out their chests, berating anyone who dares use more than one square of toilet paper (figuratively and literally). As is so often the case, it’s not the cream that has risen to the top but the most bombastic and self-promoting. Dave Ramsey’s machine and army is, as they say, not a bug but a feature — indicative of his my-way-or-the-highway approach.

    On the other side, we’ve had the Financial Literacy boondoggle — the vast amounts of money and resources poured into formal FinLit education that, according to their own research, has done nothing to improve FinLit scores. Nor has it had any noticeable impact on financial behavior or outcomes. Gee, could that possibly be because, as is well-documented, financial literacy doesn’t correlate to financial behavior?

    In the meantime, the overwhelming majority of our citizenry are pluggers, keeping their heads down, working hard (one job with a pension or 401k-eligible, if they’re lucky; 2 or 3 jobs with no benefits if they’re not), focused on keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table, one minor disaster away from everything falling apart. The only way to offer real, empathic, pertinent advice is to speak to the real circumstances and values of the person we’re advising. Bloggers, especially bombastic privileged white male bloggers, would serve their audiences better if they were a little more honest in saying WMMV (your mileage may vary). A little humility and humanity would go a long way.

    Every time I read about how hard someone worked for 10 yrs and saved to RE, I scream and wanna vomit. How self-absorbed do you have to be to not recognize that EVERYONE is working hard? The guy digging ditches or digging coal or cleaning out septic tanks – you think he’s not working hard? The woman cleaning houses or cleaning hotel rooms or waiting tables isn’t working hard? I’ve cleaned toilets for a “living.” It is gross and grueling and no matter how lean you live, the path to FIRE isn’t open to you.

    I’m encouraged to see more and more intersectional voices speaking out on personal finance topics. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, non-binary, LGBTQ, etc. And I’m encouraged to read your post. I hope you’ll continue to call out your friends Pete, Steve, and Jimmy and remind them of the vast and varied world that the rest of us operate in. It behooves us all to remember no one way works for everyone and what worked yesterday isn’t guaranteed to work tomorrow.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the enthusiastic comment. Let me be clear. I don’t put Steve or Jimmy into the category you describe. Steve speaks out frequently about the issue. Jimmy does a whole lot of good helping young doctors start on the right track. That’s what we should all be doing.

      You hit upon a major criticism of the FIRE community. There are a lot of high-income white males that make the headlines. That’s not a whole lot different than the rest of society. I attended my first FinCon last fall. I was impressed with the diversity of those in attendance. I expected to see something more as you describe. Things are changing. Like most change, it’s at a slower pace than many of us would like to see.

      Thanks again for your comment and your passion. I appreciate both.

      1. Fred, I didn’t mean to imply that Jimmy, Steve, and Pete are all in the same category. It sounds as though you’ve built meaningful and open friendships with open communications. Being an ally means standing up and saying something when you read or hear something that doesn’t quite ring true (and when you read or hear something completely uncalled for). I applaud you for initiating and participating in constructive debate.

        Change is indeed slow. I think that’s partly down to the fact that those just outside the margins tend to stop fighting as soon as they make it into the acceptable zone leaving the next layer of marginalized to fend for themselves. I hope to make it to FinCon some day. I’ll admit, I imagined it as a not particularly diverse event.

        BTW, I signed up for updates via your popup and was taken to a 404 page not found error page. I did get the “please confirm” email though.

  5. Fred,

    I’m a new blogger myself, including fairly new to the FIRE space.

    Arrogance bothers me. It is like they aren’t willing to learn because they think they have it 100% figured out. I like to hear peoples opinions, and in fact, I love it when people challenge my own perspective. There have been many occasions where through respectful dialogue, the other person changed my opinion. There is no opinion in the financial space that I would be willing to die for. For example, I hate credit card debt. But I’m not going to say that 100% of the time it is a mistake to take on credit card debt, or shame anyone for their decisions…. even if I think what they are doing is a mistake. But I’m also not going to be shy about the stupid decisions I’ve made about spending more than I made with credit cards.

    To me, I try to remind myself of the following:

    – I don’t know everything, and in some areas, I have huge gaps in knowledge.
    – What works for me doesn’t mean it will or should work for everyone.
    – I need to have a loose grip on my opinions, as I could be wrong.
    – You can’t have a discussion with people if you tell them “how it is or should be”.
    – Being grateful when someone disagrees with me, as it is a chance to open up my mind.

    Thanks for sharing this article. I love your perspective.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve been guilty of some of the things I talked about in the article. Like everyone, I’m a work in progress. It’s the echo chamber that I find interesting. How can you wail away at active mutual funds and not say anything about Dave Ramsey’s advocating them? I don’t get it.

      One Reddit commenter accused me of displaying the very arrogance I’m calling out in the post. Fair enough. I can see how he might feel that way. I think it was a fair representation of the issues I discuss. Like you, I welcome disagreement. If we do it respectfully, it’s helpful and useful.

      Keep writing, Chris. Your humility will serve you well.

      Cheers!

  6. As one who was recently blocked by Dave Ramsey I applaud this post. I’ve found there to be many echo chambers in the PF “community”. Much like high school groups…. Either way, great post!!

    1. Thanks for reading and the kind words. Your Tweet showing the blocking was one I referenced in the post (anonymously). I hope it creates some healthy dialogue and some self-examination.

      1. I haven’t been banned. I don’t follow Ramsey. A couple of blogger friends that did showed the tweets of him blocking them. Seems a bit thin-skinned and sophomoric.

  7. I agree that there should be more transparency when it comes to affiliate marketing in general.

    The most disingenuous to me are the metabloggers who are basically selling a dream. I make tons of money blogging (about blogging) and so can you! The truth is that many will try, and few will succeed, but the person selling the courses successfully will continue to do great.

    I did my best to address the Personal Capital issue in a post last month (https://www.physicianonfire.com/income-becomes-your-enemy/). I’ll recreate that here to keep people from having to get to the end of a 3,000 word post.

    “Yes, I Recommend Personal Capital. No, It’s Not Perfect

    Here’s a great example. Personal finance bloggers love to recommend Personal Capital. I love to recommend Personal Capital. If you do use it to track your investments and you have a six-figure portfolio, this site receives a referral fee. I was using it before I had any notion of starting a blog and I’ve truly been a happy customer for four or five years.

    How can they offer this powerful software for free? They know that some small percentage of users will become customers of their advisory service. That is a paid service that charges an assets under management (AUM) fee.

    Just as I don’t have AUM-fee financial advisors on my recommended list, I don’t recommend Personal Capital’s advisory service. It may seem contradictory, but their free software gives you tools to help you better manage money on your own, and they use it to attract customers for a decidedly non-DIY financial planning service.

    If you are tracking a sizable portfolio with Personal Capital, you can expect to be contacted by email and/or phone by an advisor who would like you to sit through a virtual presentation that describes how their approach to sector weighting can lead to increased returns, at least based on past performance as presented by their advisors.

    You can ignore them, but they’ll be on you like the paper boy in Better Off Dead. They want their two dollars!

    You can politely say no thank you in no uncertain terms, and they’ll eventually leave you alone but you’ll remain on their mailing list. As with any list, you can always unsubscribe.

    Or you can do what I did and take them up on the offer to walk through your portfolio and see their recommended changes. I took delight in impressing the advisor with my knowledge and rationale, and it was clear to him early on that I was very unlikely to become a paying client.

    So that’s the disclaimer and disclosure based on my perspective on Personal Capital. I couldn’t possibly say all of this every time I mention them, but there it is.”

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    1. PoF,

      I have always respected and appreciated your honesty and full disclosures. I should have included you in my “good guys” list.😀I don’t know of any other blogger who has made this kind of full disclosure and explanation about Personal Capital. That’s what should be happening. Kudos to you.

      And I’ve told you how much I appreciate your fair treatment of financial advisors. That’s another rarity. The personal finance blogging community could do so much to help those who aren’t inclined, for whatever reason, to do things themselves find the right advisor. You do that. I wish others would follow suit.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate you.

  8. Hello, Fred,
    I have not read your blog before, but I did listen to you (and the others) on the DocG podcast a couple weeks ago. I commented on DocG’s site (or Twitter) that if I had a financial advisor like you and the others in the past, I would probably still be working with a financial advisor.

    Some of this message resonates with me, too. I do not care to give examples, but when I detect a certain amount of hubris, I unfollow/unsubscribe and move on. There is already way too much content to read.

    Best, VBMD

    1. I so appreciate the kind words and encouragement. We advisors don’t get much love from the PF community. Interestingly, some have accused me of arrogance in writing the post. I can see how they might feel that way, especially if they had reason to take it personally. I hope I was clear that I wasn’t lumping all PF bloggers in the same pot. That’s one of the things we advisors have to hear.

      Anyway, it’s nice to meet you. I hope you’ll come back again.

  9. Fred, my friend, I am not sure how I missed this one until today!! Sorry for that.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. As you know, I have a great love for you and what you do. I appreciate your honest response to my post and for being fair with your criticism.

    There is certainly very little regulation among the blogging crowd. This can lead to many issues. I must say that I do think that the regulations in the financial industry do not prevent a lot of the badness that can originate there. I’ve experienced some of that on a very personal level and countless time with friends.

    Just like in any business there are “good” and “bad” actors. I know this is true in both medicine and in financial advising. Separating the two can be challenging, and if I am looking in the mirror with some honesty I recognize that the health care system – of which I am a part – is infinitely more broken than the financial advising industry.

    All that said, I appreciate your perspective and that you try to do what is right.

    Keep being you. I wouldn’t change a thing about you.

    Your brother,

    Jimmy / TPP

    1. Jimmy,

      I feel like we’re having a love fest here. Haha. Your thoughtful response is one of the reasons I love and respect you so much.

      I totally agree with you on the lack of enforcement in the financial advice industry. FINRA is the fox watching the chicken coupe. Unscrupulous people find their way in all corners, don’t they? For the most part, I think most of the people in the medical and financial advice arenas try to do the right thing. Sadly, in both areas, we never hear about that.

      We’ve both taken some hits lately. We both keep plugging away. I love the dialogue we have, even when we disagree. I wish more people would do that.

      Thanks for your kind words, friendship and honesty. I so appreciate you.

      Your other brother,

      Fred

  10. This is probably one of my favorite posts from you Fred. Very well thought out and it definitely shines light on some of the things going on in blogging that can be hypocritical.

    Just like there are bad physicians there can be bad financial advisors and they sometimes taint the way we judge the group as a whole. I had an interaction with an advisor early on during residency and felt that it was done not in my best interest and that soured my look on the profession as a whole.

    Then I come across other genuine advisors like yourself that really seen to put the clients interest to heart.

    I too feel that you can write about what works for you without having to bash what someone else does.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. Writing this challenged me as well. I’ve been guilty of the very things I talk about here. I’ve tried to work on and change that. The quote from my friend is what I try to emulate – “Don’t let an incident become an indictment.” I think in so many cases these days, that’s what we do.

      I’m a work in progress like the rest of us. I hope we all work to be more open-minded and accepting of views that differ from our own.

      I appreciate you, my friend.

  11. Fred, thank you for writing this. There is an awful lot of arrogance and self-congratulatory talk among FIRE bloggers especially. And shaming of people who somehow can’t make it into the millionaire club. As a relatively unknown PF blogger, I’ve become acutely aware of the need to join the “community” of bloggers to grow my blog – but some of the stuff I read makes me shudder. There needs to be more flexibility, understanding, empathy, and just facts – but the dogmatic attitude coupled with shaming seems to be what sells these days. Be honest with yourself. That’s all that matters.

  12. Great post and very accurate! I have always wondered myself how many bloggers that give Financial advice actually are
    Financial advisors. Some great reminders here to many financial bloggers to be careful what you advise on if not an advisor. Always appreciate your honesty and wisdom Fred.

  13. I always feel odd commenting on re-released old posts but it looks like I missed this the first time around. I was expecting a blazing rant, that was circumspect and mild. One reason I don’t monetize my blog, zero ads, no affiliate links, is to be above the fray when it comes to being influenced. I love Personal Capital, they have seven figures worth of my money under an AUM fee. But they don’t even know I blog about them. In fact all of my investments are with AUM advisors. I don’t have a problem with bloggers not being legally accountable. That’s a free speech issue. People have to realize free opinions from uncredendtialed sources are worth what they cost. As far as arrogance, if Michael Jordan blogged on how to be a star player would that be arrogant? Why then are multimillionaire bloggers arrogant when they write about how they achieved something significant financially? If they shame others then sure, that’s unkind and unhelpful. But if they think they learned some useful skills toward becoming financially independent, then share away.

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