Q: I’ve hit that golden age where every financial and/or insurance company wants to manage my retirement assets. I get invitations for dinner presentations weekly. Some of these take place at some pretty nice restaurants. Is it wrong of me to accept knowing full well I’m not going to hire them? I absolutely can say no, so there’s no chance of getting sucked into some expensive annuity or crazy fee plan.

Lynda

A: I’m not a fan of these events as a general rule. But I think it is perfectly acceptable for you to accept the dinner invitation even though you don’t plan on buying the services. Enjoy the meal.

I’ve known people over the years who have gone to these dinners with no intention of buying products or services. They attend to see if there is something to learn from the presentation. Guest speakers may have some expert comments to offer. It’s good to see what other people are thinking about money and retirement.

That said, key to my answer is your writing that “there’s no chance of getting sucked into some insanely expensive annuity or crazy fee plan.” Don’t go if there is even a small risk of feeling an obligation to reciprocate in return for a meal. The sponsors are betting that a majority will feel an obligation to respond beyond handing over an e-mail address or business card. Reciprocity is a natural reaction.

The quality of the advice varies greatly at events like this. Not all of them are bad. I have only been to a few over the years. I remember at one the speaker gave a very useful overview of Social Security and a competent review of techniques for withdrawing money from retirement savings. At another luncheon the pitch was for retirees to invest in “alternative investments” just like the Harvard and Yale endowments funds. Ugh. That was upsetting.

Most important, these meals aren’t a good way to find a financial adviser. Your question suggests you aren’t in the market for a planner, and that’s fine. But if someone reading this column is thinking about hiring a financial planner to help them navigate the next stage of life, attending one of these meals isn’t a good shortcut. You will want to make the effort to tap into your network for suggestions, investigate planners with sterling credentials, and only do business with those adhering to the fiduciary standard. You will want to spend time understanding the planner’s approach to managing money and risk, learn how they make their income, and delve into what they can do for you that you believe you can’t do as well on your own.

 

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace”, commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.