Selecting a financial advisor is a major decision that will impact your family’s wealth and peace of mind. If you are looking to engage a professional advisor or to evaluate your current advisor, consider these important criteria:
Selecting an advisor with integrity is paramount. You will be entrusting this person with your most confidential information and relying on them to help secure your financial future. There must never be a question whether this person or their firm have your best interests in mind.
Working with an advisor and firm that do not represent any internal products ensures unbiased recommendations. Knowing that the focus is on your goal achievement as opposed to filling a sales quota builds trust.
Be sure to ask what your advisor’s average client profile is and whether they have a minimum fee or asset management amount. Do they deal with clients just like you? Do they have the skills and insights to help you with your specific needs (such as transitioning through a divorce, caring for a special needs child or selling a business)? Make sure their average client profile is similar to yours and that their advice and services are well suited to your needs.
Feeling in sync with your advisor fosters trust and allows for a more personal relationship. Do they relate to you? Do you feel that they genuinely care about you? Are their values and communication styles in line with yours? Do you feel confident that they will be there for you through the good times and bad? The more you “like” your advisor, the stronger and more meaningful the relationship.
Know the credentials. There are over 200 different designations a financial planner can obtain, but not all of them require extensive coursework, thorough exams, and regular continuing education. Beyond academic degrees such as a Master of Science in Financial Planning (MSFP) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA), the CFP® is one of the more respected designations. Ensure that the advisor (and/or their firm) is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or a state’s securities agency. The term “Registered Investment Advisor” (RIA) describes this registration and carries with it a “Fiduciary Duty” standard beyond that of a broker.
Is the firm sizeable both in assets under management and in personnel to ensure continuity and adequate capacity to meet your future needs? Has the advisor and firm been in business for long enough to demonstrate they’ve been through various market cycles and have stood the test of time? Does the firm maintain almost 100% of their client relationships? Do they have established partnerships with highly respected companies, both locally and nationally, to provide additional resources when needed?
How many services does the advisor and firm provide? How are they handling your investment portfolio—by strategically placing you into outside funds or by being a “hands on” manager? Beyond investments, are financial planning, insurance, estate planning, tax, real estate and bookkeeping services also provided by the firm or its affiliates? Below are basic definitions of different types of advisors:
- Investment Advisor: will help you manage your portfolio.
- Financial Planner: will review your entire financial life, including retirement plans, insurance coverage, college funding, budgeting, estate planning as well as help advise you on your investments. These advisors provide advice on a project basis, and can be paid by the hour.
- Wealth Manager: combines the services of an Investment Advisor and a Financial Planner to help you plan and manage your entire estate while also ensuring your other advisors are coordinated and working together efficiently.
It is one thing if a firm offers particular services, it’s another if they prompt you when these services would be of greatest value to you. Most people rely on experts to tell them what they need and when they need it. This requires a systematized approach that is customized for each client’s unique needs.
Your advisor needs to be accessible, approachable and responsive. Your inquiries should be responded to within 1 business day, as an example. Additionally, your advisor and their team should have transparent contact information that makes it simple for you to reach them. These factors are vital to maintaining a productive relationship.
You should know exactly what you are paying your advisor and firm. Expenses can come in many forms, including:
- Commissions derived from product sales or based on portfolio trading activity.
- Fee-Based (mostly fees or as a percentage of the assets being managed or annual retainer; may also utilize some commission-based products)
- Fee-Only (hourly, as a percentage of the assets being managed or annual retainer, with no commissions from the purchase or sale of financial products)
- Custody and trading charges
*Complete transparency of all expenses and a willingness to openly discuss them are essential.
Other Things to Find Out About
- References: speaking with existing clients and outside professionals who have firsthand experience with the advisor is an excellent way to gain insight into their reputation and ability to deliver as promised.
- Read their Form ADV Part 2A and 2B: a Registered Investment Advisor must give you this document prior to or at the time you contract for services. It details the firm’s business model, compliance history, pay structure and potential conflicts of interest.
- Run a background check: you can see whether an advisor has ever been disciplined through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), or your state insurance and security departments. This information is public record and can easily be checked. If there is anything that makes you uncomfortable, ask questions.