Selecting the right advisor, one that is a good fit for you, is important for your financial future. You will be basing significant decisions on their recommendations. You need to know not only the appropriate questions to ask, but also how to determine if the answers are adequate.
In a relatively short time, you should be able to discern which advisor is right for you. There are significant distinctions that you should learn though.
Find a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™
Anyone can call themselves a financial advisor. A certification is not required. If you see the CFP® mark after an advisor’s name, you know that this individual has put forth a significant amount of effort to obtain this respected certification.
Only those who have fulfilled the certification and renewal standards of the CFP Board can display the CFP® certification mark. These requirements are called the four Es: Education, Examination, Experience, and Ethical requirements. They are four important reasons why the financial planner you select should be a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.
Are your best interests front and center?
Just like you may think all advisors are certified, you would think all planners put your best interest first, right? Although hard to believe, that’s not always the case. Before you waste your time interviewing financial advisors, find out if your interests will be THE priority. Ask if they are fiduciaries.
“Find out if the advisor is a fiduciary before you schedule the first meeting”
Why is this important? If a financial advisor is not a fiduciary, they are not held to the legal obligation to act in your best interest. Instead, they follow the suitability standard. In other words, the advisor must reasonably believe that any recommendations made are suitable for clients. “Reasonably believe” and “suitable” are much too vague terms for me, especially when it pertains to my finances.
Also as a fiduciary, any and all conflicts of interest must be disclosed in advance. Would you rather receive reasonably suitable advice with no knowledge of conflicts of interest, or advice that is in your best interest? To learn more, read my blog post Why Your Advisor Should be a Fiduciary.
Who’s paying the piper?
The financial advisor does not work for free. How that person gets paid does have a bearing on your relationship. Financial advisors operate under one of three compensation structures:
Commission: A broker will receive a commission by selling financial products such as insurance, annuities, or mutual funds. It’s a sales charge or sales load skimmed off the top of the investment. The company pays the broker for recommending their product – much like a kick-back.
Commissions naturally create a conflict of interest. Brokers have an incentive to recommend products that pay them the highest commissions, whether or not those investments are in your best interest.
Fee-Only: There are no commissions, sales charges, or sales loads. Compensation does not come from the financial products recommended. Fee-only planners receive payment for their advice through either an hourly fee, a retainer fee, or a percentage of your assets under their management.
Fee-Based: This is a term created to confuse you. It sounds very similar to fee-only, but that’s where the similarity ends. Yes, the advisor can receive fees like a fee-only advisor, but they also receive commissions from annuities, insurance, and mutual funds.
Payment structure does affect advice
J. H. White Financial is a fiduciary, fee-only advisory firm that only employs CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNING™ professionals. That allows us, and all fee-only advisors, to provide objective recommendations that place your needs first.
The commission and fee-based models have the potential for conflicts of interest. Yes, I’m biased towards the fee-only model, but it’s important to understand how your advisor gets paid. It will affect the advice you receive.
It just seems like common sense to know that your interests will be put first, how the advisor gets paid, and that that person has put forth an effort to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNING™ professional.
The background check
Yes, you need to do a background check. Look at it as your pre-interview information gathering. If you visit the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) BrokerCheck, you can find out if an advisor has had any regulatory actions, violations, or complaints. You can also view employment history and licenses.
Fee-only, Fiduciary, CFP®, FINRA background – check, check, check, and check
You’ve been able to whittle down the field to three or four candidates. Now it’s time to start the interview process and to dig into the details with the right questions.
How did you become a financial planner?
I call this the verbal resumé. You learn more about the advisor’s experience and history, and get a better feel and understanding about the advisor and their motivation by listening to their story. Poke and prod a bit and ask for more details.
How are you different than any other advisor?
Look for something unique. It could be they have a specialty, a different approach to service, availability to meet on weekends, or they’ll conduct meetings through web chats, as we do. Whatever it is, an advisor should provide something compelling that sets them apart and, most importantly, be excited about that difference.
Can you provide references?
References are a good way to learn more about an advisor. I recommend you get two or three references that are in a similar situation as yours. Find out how long they’ve worked with the advisor, and what they believe the advisor’s strengths and weaknesses are.
First, you need to consider what your individual needs are. You want a long-term relationship with your advisor, and remember, your needs will change over five, ten, and twenty years. Can your financial advisor handle the different situations that will arise during your lifetime?
Comprehensive financial planners provide various services to their clients. Your financial life isn’t limited to investments – your advisor shouldn’t be either. By providing planning services for estate, insurance, investment, retirement, and tax planning, to name a few, chances are your advisor will have the knowledge to help you. Advisors that handle only investments may not see the whole picture.
Good financial advisors check in and meet with their clients periodically. Every client is different with their communication preferences, but it’s important to check that the advisor will be easily accessible and proactive during both good and bad times.
Learn about the process. Ask the advisor to walk you through the relationship over the next year and beyond. This will create expectations, or benchmarks, that you can use to measure your relationship and determine its success.
Looking for a financial advisor is hard work and time-consuming. Just remember, though, that the effort you put in will pay off in the long run.
If you found this helpful, please share this information with friends and family. It could save them a lot of aggravation.