By George M. Smith
In just the last few weeks I have read several articles about individuals who were barred from the financial services industry and were caught, again, “doing business” when they shouldn’t be. The fraud they perpetrated injured many, but this damage could have been prevented by taking just a few minutes to do some basic homework.
One case that especially stood out to me is the pastor of a megachurch in Houston, Texas, who teamed up with Gregory Alan Smith (no relation to me) – who has been barred from the financial industry since 2010 – to sell defunct, Pre-Revolutionary Chinese bonds. Huh? Let that one sink in for a moment. The fraud occurred in 2013 and 2014. Even more disturbing is that the victims were vulnerable elderly folks in the church. To add to the complexity, and perhaps a dose of Hollywood story-line sizzle, an attorney, Shae Yatta Harper, was complicit in the fraud. Clearly these things happen in all industries, but it’s more concerning to me when bad apples purposefully poison the same waters I want to keep clean.
At Smith Bruer Advisors we strive for a culture of compliance and go to great lengths to ensure transparency and information accessibility, whether it be a set of disclosures, fees, account performance, or other documents to which our clients have a right. Our existence is to serve our wonderful clients, not the other way around.
Being informed is easy because much of what you should want to know is at your fingertips, and asking questions is easy too. Just doing these two things could save you time and money. In short, doing some digging often results in better outcomes and less pain and suffering.
The good thing about dealing with licensed people, or at least someone who is supposed to be licensed, is that licensure data is usually public. To aid you in doing research here are some links you can use to check out a person, or firm, with whom you are considering engaging. These links cover the most common professionals one would usually hire and are either for the State of Florida or for Federal licensure. Every state has its own version.
Licensed Medical Professional
Certified Public Accountant
Investment Advisor (individual) or Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) (firm)
Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
Life Insurance and annuity agents
Unfortunately, many seem to either not understand or blatantly ignore the benefits of research, but for those who are willing, they simply may not know where to go. When doing our own research one standard that our firm prefers is to seek input from multiple other knowledgeable people or sources. In fact, there is proverb that states that “there is wisdom in many counselors.” Granted some research can take time, but it is typically worth it.
In the case of the Chinese bond selling preacher and his accomplices, I went to FINRA Broker Check, typed in the name Smith, Gregory Alan, and got this result in less than a minute:
Clearly, his status is not in question.
Now, I know I don’t have to say this, but apparently I do. If your preacher wants to sell you something – anything – first, don’t buy it, and second, find another church.
These sites are not typically difficult to navigate and can be a part of increasing your confidence in finding a true professional. In cases where an individual or company is not required to carry a license or designation you can always ask for referrals, ask friends and family, and do an internet search. You may even consider contacts in your social media platforms for feedback where you could possibly get multiple, quick replies.
If you want to have a better experience take time to do some research. Don’t be like my kids at homework time, “Why do I have to learn this? I’ll never use it!” If you have or have had kids you’ll relate. This, however, is the type of homework that you will be glad you did.
Smith Bruer Advisors is fee-only, fiduciary Registered Investment Adviser based in Tallahassee, Florida