In past “No Dumb Questions,” I’ve been covering some of costs of investing, and what to expect in return. In addition, it’s not just how much you’re paying. Knowing what your purchasing matters too.

What the heck am I talking about? In the financial industry, it’s awfully easy to think you’re getting solid financial advice when what you’re actually receiving is a hard sales pitch.

If you think I’m exaggerating, wait ‘til you hear about the storm that’s been brewing in the popular press over exactly this concern. That brings me to today’s very timely No Dumb Question: How do you know when you’re getting financial advice that’s truly in your best interest? Stay tuned, and while you’re at it, why not sign up to receive more good ideas in the future?

If you’re of “a certain age,” you may remember the 1986 John Hughes movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” So many great scenes! Today, I’m reminded of the one in which Ferris Bueller gives a parking garage attendant the keys to his friend’s father’s pristine Ferrari. Ferris tips the attendant and urges him to take “extra special care of it.” The attendant smiles.

Cut to the next scene, and here’s what really happens.

Now imagine if that Ferrari were your best financial interests. While your typical Bay Street banker dresses a lot more professionally, the difference between your interests and theirs may differ as dramatically as in that Ferris Bueller scene. You hope they’ll take excellent care of your money. Unfortunately, most bank and similar financial firm employees have very different interests from yours, in the form of rewarding “carrots” as well as punishing “sticks.”

On the carrot front, they may receive commissions when they sell you anything; bonuses for pushing one product over another; and extra-special rewards when they outperform their peers by selling you a whole lot of goods and services you may not need.

And those are just the perks. They’re usually also under hard pressure to meet escalating sales quotas to keep their jobs.

In short, like Ferris Bueller and his friends, once your back is turned, that “extra special” best-interest care you’re hoping for– may well rank a distant second to conflicting incentives that have nothing to do with you.

Think I’m exaggerating? This past March, a CBC News “Go Public” reporter sparked an investigation into this very thing. The series broke in early March, when three TD Bank Group tellers spoke out about the “incredible pressure” they felt they were under “to squeeze profits from customers by signing them up for products and services they don’t need.”

If it were just three unhappy tellers, the story might have ended there. But within days, CBC was inundated with almost 1,000 e-mails from bank employees across Canada and among all five big banks. The watch-fire quickly grew into a bonfire of complaints, fueled by the bank employees themselves! In a follow up piece aptly entitled, “We are all doing it,” CBC reported that: “employees from RBC, BMO, CIBC, TD and Scotiabank locations across Canada describe the pressures to hit targets that are monitored weekly, daily and in some cases hourly.”

So what’s an investor to do?

Let’s circle back to our original “No Dumb Question.” How do you know if you’re getting good advice? Of course you want to work with a professional who has enough experience and credentials to know what she’s talking about. But here’s another key question to ask when interviewing an advisor: How are you getting paid?

The answer should sound something like this: “You’ll hire me directly, paying me a fully disclosed fee. To earn my fee, I’ll provide personalized, independent advice in a relationship that is always driven by your best interest. If I ever receive any other forms of compensation, I will fully disclose these to you as well.

What if you hear something more like this: “Not to worry. My employer pays me to service your account. I’m happy to answer your questions and offer you complimentary advice.”

In light of what you now know about the pressures that commission-based financial company employees face, I hope it’s obvious that the second answer should raise some bright red flags about whose interests that “free” advice is most likely to be serving.

What other questions can I answer for you about your financial best interests? Let me know! And subscribe to get notified when new videos come out.