FiduciaryNews

Hosting an industry conference? Ask us about including it in this ticker?
What do you think of our site upgrade?

Exclusive Interview: MoneyTrack’s Pam Krueger Says It’s Time for Industry and Regulators to “Pick a Lane”

Exclusive Interview: MoneyTrack’s Pam Krueger Says It’s Time for Industry and Regulators to “Pick a Lane”
August 21
00:03 2018

For nearly twenty-five years, Pam Krueger has been involved with television journalism. Specializing in the financial industry, she has been active both behind and in front of the camera. Since 2002, she’s been co-host and executive producer of MoneyTrack on PBS. She has just produced a brand new 1-hour special, MoneyTrack: Money for Life that explains the fiduciary standard to viewers. It is scheduled to air in 2019.

More than merely a media personality, Krueger learned the ropes of the financial trade by working in the field. She’s recently combined both this field experience and her media experience as the founder of WealthRamp, an online matching service to help consumers find qualified financial advisors who adhere to the highest fiduciary standard. She also serves on the board of the California JumpStart Coalition, a not-for-profit, Section 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with the National Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy that seeks to improve the personal financial literacy of California’s youth.

FN: Pam, you’ve got quite the varied background. Our readers like to know how our interview subjects ended up where they are today. Tell us a little bit about your life’s journey. What events stand out in your mind as critical to the career path you’ve chosen?
Krueger: Yes, my path was definitely not a straight line but more like a circle! I went from financial services to TV producer and now with the launch of Wealthramp, I’m combining the two! Here’s what happened: I spent the first decade of my career as a series 7 broker within a wirehouse, (then in management), and then I took a role within the RIA channel at Schwab, so I was part of both a sales culture and independent fee-for-advice environment. Once I realized how the real advice business (RIA) model worked, I was stunned at the obvious and stark differences these two business models and how divergent the behavior and standards were. It occurred to me then there that the old-school brokerage model is a just this huge industry posing as a “profession.” To me, the total lack of transparency within the sales culture created and enabled a system of dysfunction placing brokers squarely at odds with their own clients. For me, elevating the advice business would mean allowing consumers to see what’s behind the curtain, and it meant I needed to pivot more and take more of an investor advocacy role.

FN: You started as a stock broker. The brokerage industry serves a useful purpose in keeping the markets liquid, but was there something in particular about that business that raised issues in your mind?
Krueger: Right! And stock broker was a different role way back then. Before the internet, brokers provided access to the stock and bond markets that any average person wouldn’t have on their own. I was in my 20’s working as a broker at a major wire house, and things were changing fast around me. I was excited about researching equities and making recommendations that were appropriate for my clients. As the pressure to sell proprietary packaged products increased, it was clear that my job was nothing more than telemarketer. Eventually, everybody had access to the same markets so as a broker, I had no special access. Then slowly the broker job description began to morph into the role of financial advisor, yet I couldn’t figure out how I could possibly pull-off positioning myself as an expert “advisor” with that scope of knowledge with zero formal financial planning training. I realized pretty fast that the really good, respected brokers were leaving the firm to head off to start their own RIA’s. The environment was transforming, and I had to pick a lane. I did just that, and I purposely chose to not participate in the old-school brokerage model.

FN: How did you make the transition from financial professional to broadcasting professional? How were you “discovered”?
Krueger: I wasn’t discovered, I had to beg for an entry-level business reporting job at a small station, KSBW-TV in Salinas, CA. I loved it. They let me write, produce and anchor my own segments on the 6PM newscast. I didn’t sleep for over a year because I had no idea how to write, produce or edit and now I had hard deadlines to hit. My learning curve was vertical, but I had to do it and you know what? I never missed a deadline once. After that, I was recruited to host and co-produce a daily TV show, The Money Machine on TechTV (you may remember ZDTV). From there, I formed an educational non-profit, and partnered with state securities regulators to launch a brand-new weekly TV series about money and investing called MoneyTrack. The MoneyTrack series was created as a means to educate (and hopefully) protect consumers. John Bogle was on several times, Ben Stein was a regular, Nassim Taleb, Burton Malkiel and Warren Buffett were all guests on MoneyTrack.  I’ve considered myself an investor advocate for the last 20 years and am proud of MoneyTrack, which aired on 255 PBS stations and has won dozens of awards. (Segments are on our YouTube channel). I was asked to join the California chapter board of Jump$tart, a national coalition whose mission is to increase financial literacy among our youth, particularly to encourage and help teachers feel more comfortable teaching personal finance and economics courses by providing them free resources and access to mentors.

FN: Describe your “aha!” moment regarding the importance of acting as a fiduciary?
Krueger: My biggest “aha!” moment regarding the fiduciary standard was stopping to appreciate how seriously advisers need take their own accountability. Advisers overall make a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives — either positive or negative. Just because it’s legal to push annuities onto aging retirees who may be cognitively impaired doesn’t make the practice okay to do so. I did a story on MoneyTrack about an 87-year-old man who was charmed into 11 different annuities, all in his IRA account. He sued and did recover some portion of his funds. There are tens of millions of hard-working Americans who completely rely on and trust so-called professionals in this industry to guide them into retirement and help preserve their life savings. To see day after day these people putting all of that at risk because they put all of their trust in the wrong individual is screwed up. I don’t worry about the people who have $10 million in the bank at age 65, I worry about those we consider average Americans, and you know what? Those people deserve much better than a salesperson who can barely meet the lowest bar— the “suitability standard.”  But there was another big “AHA!” moment for me. When I stopped to consider how the old school brokerage industry is sending two entirely opposite messages to the public: they proclaim they represent the highest standard for clients and deserve full trust, at the exact same moment they’re spending millions and millions to avoid becoming the highest standard. No wonder consumers are confused.

FN: How has your broadcast career helped you better understand the value and seriousness of financial literacy and the fiduciary standard in particular?
Krueger: Being out in front of audiences both on-air and in person gave me the opportunity to hear how little consumers know about the basics of investing. For instance, so many people think that CNBC is going to give them real actionable advice. I did a very entertaining interview with Jim Cramer during season 3 of MoneyTrack during which we took a viewer question. The viewer admitted he is a huge Cramer fan (addict) and that he follows every move Jim makes. He asked us how much of his total portfolio should he commit to Jim’s stock picks? My answer back was, “What’s the name of Jim’s show?” Mad Money! Hello! That’s how much of your portfolio you should use to follow Jim. So, you’ve got people too hyped up to sit still and actually invest, then you’ve got people at the other extreme too scared or paranoid to invest in anything at all. Those are the people who wind up buying gold coins. Too many have bought into the lie that there’s some hidden secret-treasure and a select few gurus have that edge – (which when you think about it is true if the edge is real inside information!). But then ask yourself, on the TV series Billions you don’t see Axe on TV jumping up and down, barking at the moon and sharing his inside secrets with the general public!

FN: The DOL’s “Fiduciary” Rule may have been vacated, but it raised awareness. How have you seen this and what might this mean going forward?
Krueger: A huge opportunity to communicate and educate. I am astounded at the number of people who’ve heard about the Fiduciary Rule just enough to make them curious as to what’s it all about? I love it. Wealthramp is my new platform that helps consumers find vetted, competent, fee-only RIA’s so it’s my job to gauge the awareness. The fact that there will be no fiduciary rule is awesome in the sense that this makes consumers very curious. Curiosity leads to intentional learning, so this moment becomes a huge opportunity for all of us who care deeply about the fiduciary standard to educate consumers about what that means to them. It’s such a great opportunity that I decided to create a brand new 1-hour special for PBS that explains the fiduciary standard and that with or without a new rule, consumers can access fiduciary advice. This new 1-hour program will roll out on PBS stations in early 2019. All of us who want to promote and champion the fiduciary standard now have this moment in time to get a clear message out to the public. Via Wealthramp I’ve talked to several consumers who came to my platform already informed enough to know they want a fiduciary, fee-only advisor. These are wealthy 73-year-old women! I asked one older widow from Dallas, how did she even know to look for a fee-only, fiduciary advisor? She answered: “Well Pam, I read the Wall St. Journal.”  Nuff said.

FN: It’s the SEC’s turn at the plate with their “best interest” standard. Some say this only sows more confusion in the marketplace. Other than restricting the use of terms like “advisor” (similar to the way the term “adviser” is restricted today) what else do you think the SEC can do to help reduce this confusion?
Krueger: Pick a lane… please. Why is the SEC living in the land of ambiguity? Lead, follow, or step aside. I may not agree with Ken Fisher very often but on this point, I believe he nailed it in his recent interview with ThinkAdvisor:  “financial advice industry needs ‘disharmonization’,” “clear, bright, red lines so investors know exactly what they are getting. Advisers versus Advisors language is a start.” I just don’t think the SEC should do this in tentative baby steps. Pick a lane folks.

FN: One SEC Commissioner recently implied that “fiduciary” is now being used as a marketing strategy, and not necessarily in a consistent manner. Why might this be a concern and what can be done to ensure the message and terminology doesn’t get warped the same way “adviser” and “advisor” has been?
Krueger: Um, I think the horse has left that barn. The implications are that this industry might just become even more sullied than it is already. Is that what the SEC is going for here? Can this industry devolve any further? Ask people on the street how much they trust a financial adviser because I just did that on my new upcoming 1-hr special, MoneyTrack: Money for Life. We, in the RIA world can either stand around waiting for the SEC to advance the cause, or we take some decisive action to turn this into a profession by applying some pressure ourselves. Clear lines, clear labels. Don’t we expect it of doctors and lawyers? It’s only people’s life savings and property at stake here. Paul Spitzer is an RIA and friend. We were just chatting about this. If brokers can both position themselves as “advisors” (it’s more than just the label), how can FINRA/SEC have two entirely different sets of rules? One rule for the Mega-Brokers (they’re running dark pools, front running, mark-up/downs, parking, manipulation and a hundred other things) and then another set of rules for anyone else. The lobby is just too huge. Look, Dodd-Frank is LAW but B/Ds just spend the money until they change it to “best interests.” The good news is consumers are getting smarter and they’re voting with their feet.

FN: In the last couple of years you’ve taken on a new project that has you working directly with financial professionals who agree to act as fiduciaries. How have you found the receptivity of industry professionals to this idea in light of the broader awareness of the usefulness of a fiduciary adviser?
Krueger: Yes. The only RIA’s who I work with are like-minded and follow fiduciary best practices. These advisers want the spotlight to shine on them. They have a deep and authentic desire to educate the public and get their voices heard. They are looking to me to help amplify our collective messages and educate consumers.

FN: Switching gears for a moment, but still on the subject of financial literacy and industry professionals, how do you see these two areas coming together regarding the movement to create Child IRAs? [Ed. Note: You can read more about it here: http://childira.com/ – just scroll down below the sliding picture and click the links to the relevant articles.]
Krueger: Wearing my Jump$tart hat here, I can’t wait to help promote this! Where’s the downside? Simple. Brilliant. In fact, I’m toying with the idea of writing a book for consumers about kids and money and asking some of the RIA’s on Wealthramp to offer their sage advice to parents and grandparents about how to get their kids interested in learning about investing. 

FN: Do you have any final words for our readers?
Krueger: There are so many excellent wealth managers and planners out there, and I am learning from this ilk of truly competent, fiduciary advisers. Despite the obvious clouds that hang over this industry, I’m encouraged by the level of commitment I see these advisers take to ensure their clients’ financial well-being. How do I know this for sure? Because I’m hearing it directly from the clients after they’ve been matched on Wealthramp.

FN: Pam, on behalf of the readers of FiducairyNews.com, we want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. It’s always interesting to find out how other media figures see the world of “fiduciary.” It’s especially gratifying when the media experience comes after substantive work in the actual field. We wish you continued success in your various activities!

Related Articles

About Author

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

1 Comment

Only registered users can comment. Login

FiduciaryNews.com is sponsored by…

Vote in our Poll

Disclaimer

The materials at this web site are maintained for the sole purpose of providing general information about fiduciary law, tax accounting and investments and do not under any circumstances constitute legal, accounting or investment advice. You should not act or refrain from acting based on these materials without first obtaining the advice of an appropriate professional. Please carefully read the terms and conditions for using this site. This website contains links to third-party websites. We are not responsible for, and make no representations or endorsements with respect to, third-party websites, or with respect to any information, products or services that may be provided by or through such websites.