Tobias Salinger’s 2020 article “A Question of Conflict” won a SABEW award in the Personal Finance category
Tobias Salinger, a senior editor for Financial Planning, made a very important contribution in 2020 that advanced the debate about fiduciary standards. Salinger interviews several financial planners who left Northwestern Mutual (NWM) because they believed the incentive structure and culture at NWM prevented them from being autonomous, fiduciary advisors.
The Institute recently posed four interview questions to Salinger in a quick Q/A:
Q: What got you interested in this story?
A: Advisors and other wealth management industry professionals began raising concerns a couple of years ago relating to integrated pay grids at Northwestern Mutual.
Q: How did you deal with the risks of the he said / she said aspects, where Northwestern does not look good?
A: There are often elements of it. All you can do as a journalist is try to engage and put the most compelling arguments out there from as many angles as possible in order to let the readers decide. I was grateful to Northwestern for engaging with our questions which helps a great deal on this front. I also wanted to emphasize that these are industry-wide matters and not just about one firm.
Q: What were you hoping would be the outcome of the piece for advisors, firms or other journalists?
A: I hoped to move all of the debate around fiduciary standards forward or, at least, help more advisors, wealth management professionals and clients better understand all of the issues involved.
Q: How well do you think the piece succeeded?
A: Judging by comments from readers, I think we succeeded a great deal. I knew that if we could bring a human face to the issue through advisors who care for their clients like beloved family members then we had a very good chance of being successful. It’s a much more effective way of telling the story than simply covering the rules promulgation process or looking at potential legislation.– Interview between Institute and Tobias Salinger, May 12, 2021
Rick Scheeler, an advisory board member of the Institute, stated in the FP article that an amendment to his NWM contract “creat[ed] an inherent conflict of interest” and that it was “a massive insult” to his “primary occupation of financial planning and wealth management.”
This type of journalism is not only bold—it breaks new ground. Financial Planning’s investigation into NWM’s business practices, replete with perspectives on all sides of the issue, shine an important light on the difference between “advice” which is incidental to product sales and unbiased and disinterested financial advice. Hearing the stories of former NWM representatives who now have their own practices offers a unique window into the distinctions between sales and advice. Congratulations on a courageous, well-written article, Financial Planning.
Read the full, award-winning article at FinancialPlanning.com.