Advisor Advertising Disguised as an Award

From time to time I run across articles that share my concern about certain issues in the financial planning and investment industries. This article from Russ Thornton, a friend and a colleague, addresses an issue that I have also written about ( and ( due to both its prevalence and its potential to mislead the public.

I was recently reading an article by Allan Roth, a Colorado-based financial planner and advisor.

In his article on the CBS MoneyWatch site, Mr. Roth shares an entertaining story about his pet dachshund, Max.

Max – Allan’s dog – received an award in 2009 for being one of America’s Top Financial Planners. What makes this feat even more amazing is that Max was only a puppy at the time. For more on the background of this story, you can read Allan’s May, 2009, account here.

Maybe this makes you laugh.

It makes me cringe.

As if finding a trustworthy financial advisor wasn’t already difficult enough for many of you, these advertising firms are dishing out fake awards as fast as advisors will pay for them.

I even have some experience with this, though it doesn’t involve one of my dogs . . .
Award or Advertisement?

A few years ago, I received a call from some outfit informing me that I may be eligible to be listed as a “Five Star Professional” in Atlanta Magazine as one of Atlanta’s Top Wealth Managers.

At the time, I was a few years younger and perhaps a bit more naive, and as a result, I was excited about what sounded like a great marketing opportunity.

However, as I learned what was involved – along with what wasn’t involved – my naiveté was quickly replaced by skepticism.

There appeared to be no research or due diligence to determine one “top wealth manager” from another. In fact, the real qualification seemed to be whether you might be willing to pay them several hundred to several thousand dollars for an “enhanced” profile listing in the special section of the magazine.

I quickly said thanks, but no thanks.

A few months later I received a call from a client congratulating me on my award listing in Atlanta magazine. I said thanks but was quick to point out that it wasn’t really an award. It was an advertisement, but one that I didn’t pay for.

I went and got a copy of the magazine at the time and found my name listed alongside several hundred other “top” Atlanta financial professionals.

The Song Remains The Same

A couple of weeks ago, I started receiving emails about my upcoming listing in Atlanta magazine as – you guessed it – one of Atlanta’s top wealth managers.

For all I know, I’ve been listed each of the past several years despite not paying them a dime.

If you happen to have a copy of the October issue of Atlanta Magazine, you’ll find my name listed toward the back in the *Special Advertising Section.*

C’mon. The fact that “Special Advertising Section” is printed at the top of each page should be your first hint that this may not be such a prestigious award.

Another reason you should be skeptical?

There are over 500 “top professionals” listed. Sure, Atlanta is a big city, but how discerning can this award be if over 500 people can “win” it in Atlanta alone?

And from the “Determination of Award Winners” in the Atlanta Magazine insert, the only real “required” hurdles for this so-called award are that you’re employed as a financial advisor, insurance agent, attorney or CPA, and you’re not a crook.

And perhaps more interesting is something in their “research disclosures” which says “The inclusion of a wealth manager on the Five Star Wealth Manager list should not be construed as an endorsement of the wealth manager by Five Star Professional or Atlanta magazine.”

In other words, we think these wealth managers are worthy of our bogus award, but we’re not endorsing them. Or to put it more bluntly, if you read this list and hire one of these wealth managers, you’re on your own.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement from an organization that confers awards to top wealth managers about its award winners.

But hey, if you’d like to order your very own plaque to commemorate my special award, you can do so here. I’m kidding of course . . . I’m not ordering any of this crap, and you shouldn’t either.

And if your financial advisor does? Well, I’ll let you be the judge.

But Wait, There’s More

As if these so-called awards couldn’t get any more ridiculous, I have another quick story for you.

On October 3rd, I received an email from a woman named Margaret. It was sent to my personal email address and was addressed to “Russell.”

No one calls me “Russell” unless I’m in big trouble for something.

Anyway, this email goes on to inform me that Thornton Wealth Management LLC has been recognized as a ” 2013 Georgia Excellence Award recipient.” The award comes from the Small Business Institute for Excellence in Commerce. They even have a website, but it seems very vague to me.

It goes on to tell me how special I should feel about being selected and has a link where I can order a press release, a certificate of my award as well as a “crystal award.” You can see for yourself right here.

But you want to hear something funny?

I closed “Thornton Wealth Management LLC” in 2009 when I joined Wealthcare Capital Management. The organization no longer exists, yet I won an award. Hmmmm.

So the good news is that I won a fake award that is really just an advertisement for an entity that I closed 4 years ago.

The bad news is that you have even more reason to be wary and skeptical when carefully choosing the right financial advisor for you. And FYI, I always encourage you to have a healthy dose of skepticism when hiring or interacting with any financial professional, including myself.

It’s your money and your life and you need to be damn sure you’re confident about anyone
that you’re entrusting to look out for you. If you’re not comfortable and confident, keep interviewing until you are comfortable and confident.

Russ Thornton is the founder of Wealthcare for Women, an independent wealth management firm located in Atlanta, Georgia. Wealthcare for Women specializes in providing financial advice to women, especially recently divorced or widowed women seeking sound, objective advice during their period of transition and beyond. Russ has over twenty years of experience in providing financial advice to the public. For more information about Wealthcare for Women and Russ, visit the firm’s web site ( or contact Russ at 404.254.6993 or You can also follow Russ on Twitter ( or LinkedIn (  

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