Everything was going great.
He was smart, our conversations flowed and most importantly I trusted that man. So I was totally blindsided when he dumped me.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” he explained.
But I knew what he really meant. My bank account just wasn’t large enough to keep his eyes from wandering anymore. He was moving on to bigger and better things. Women with a lot more money than me…and probably some men too.
With the end of that relationship, I had to pick myself up and move on.
I looked around for someone to fill his shoes, but unfortunately the next person I met with was toxic – condescending, disorganized, kept me waiting and evaded my questions.
That’s right, I’m recounting my experiences with financial advisors – professionals who help you make a financial plan to achieve your goals.
Just like finding a mate, finding the right financial advisor takes time, perseverance and maybe even a little luck. Sometimes you have to ‘date’ around (a lot) before you find the perfect fit. That special someone who makes you feel like you’re their only client.
But it’s worth making the effort to find the right advisor because just as with dating, you have to be ready to tackle some tough personal conversations.
And you’ll have to navigate ‘taboo’ questions like, “How much do you get paid?”, “Do you usually see people in my age and income level?” and “Do you follow the same advice you’re giving me?”
Okay, maybe you don’t ask your dates how much money they make (or maybe you do) but you get the picture.
So where do you start? Since there’s no dating app equivalent for financial advisors (but that’s a great idea), here are five questions to ask a financial advisor before deciding if they’re the one.
1. What kind of clients do you serve?
Like I mentioned earlier, my previous financial advisor moved on from my modest investment portfolio to consult for high rollers. So this question is definitely worth asking!
Some advisors only work with clients that meet a certain asset minimum or net worth or that fall within a particular income bracket. And this makes sense because your stage of life, your investment goals and the amount you’re looking to invest are all factors that influence the advice you need.
Someone who’s fresh out of college, in debt and starting their first job is going to need much different advice than someone who has thousands of dollars to play the stock market.
2. What are your qualifications?
You might be a bit baffled by the string of letters following your advisor’s title, but pay attention because the type of professional certifications, licenses or designations they hold will determine what kind of services they can offer.
Financial professionals may specialize in a specific area of financial planning, such as wealth planning and investments, life insurance products or estate planning. So it’s possible your needs could be better met by a specialist than a holistic financial planner.
Here’s how you make sense of some of the more common designations:
- Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) – CLUs are experts in life insurance and estate planning. They can advise you on how to choose the right life insurance policy, how to structure a will, set up a trust or manage your estate. Essentially, they can have the skills and experience to help you protect yourself and your family today and in the future.
- Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) – While this designation is similar to the CFP in that it follows the same core curriculum and requires a minimum of three years work experience, the ChFC program does not require candidates to pass a final board exam. Similar to CFPs, ChFCs have advanced financial planning knowledge and experience and can advise you on a variety of topics.
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP) – CFPs are generalists who can advise you on a variety of financial topics and help you make a holistic financial plan for your future. They’ve gone through rigorous training to meet “the four Es” required for this designation:
- Education (they’ve taken courses on topics like insurance, estate planning, retirement and investing)
- Examination (they’ve passed the CFP Board’s 10-hour, 285-question exam – yowza!)
- Experience (they generally have at least three years of relevant experience)
- Ethics (they follow ethical and professional standards)
- Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) – The CFA designation is very prestigious – it’s definitely not easy to attain this accreditation! These investment experts usually act as portfolio managers, hedge fund managers or securities analysts. CFAs often work at financial services organizations – so unless you need someone to manage your hedge fund, you might not require the services of a CFA
- Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – CPAs are experts in accounting and tax preparation. While most CPAs do not provide financial planning or investment advice to their clients, they can be your go-to person for accounting, auditing, bookkeeping and taxes.
3. What’s your approach to financial planning?
Credentials are important, but that’s just one side of the coin when it comes to finding the right advisor – their personality, style and approach are also important.
The relationship you build with your financial advisor is personal and requires a lot of trust. You’ll be engaging in some tough conversations together and making decisions about your future that are emotional – so you’ll need someone you’re comfortable with to guide you.
Ask yourself a few questions to decide if this is someone you’ll work well with:
- Do they approach financial planning holistically by looking at your priorities and goals or are they more focused on products and investments?
- Is their style hands-on or hands-off?
- Does their investment style match your risk tolerance?
- Do they take the time to explain complex finance concepts to you?
- In simple terms, what is their investment philosophy?
It might also be helpful to ask them who their ideal client is and why. If they say they prefer hands-off clients with advanced finance knowledge who are very comfortable with risk – does that sound like you?
4. How do I pay you?
Fees, commission or a combination of both – how will your advisor get paid?
The most popular methods of payment are:
- Fees: they charge an hourly rate, a flat rate or a rate based on a percentage of your investments
- Commission: they earn a commission off the sale of a product or transaction
- Combination of fees and commission: they charge a fee and may also earn a commission depending on the types of financial products you purchase
If your advisor earns a commission off the products they sell, it’s important to ensure that they’re always acting in your best interest and are recommending products and strategies that are right for you.
Essentially, your advisor should be willing to put their money where their mouth is – i.e. they shouldn’t be suggesting products to you that they wouldn’t purchase themselves if they were in your position.
And no matter how your advisor is compensated, all fees should be clearly laid out with no surprises. When in doubt, don’t be shy to ask for estimates!
5. Can you provide references?
Like with any job interview, you can request client or professional references from your prospective advisor before hiring them.
Contacting a few of their existing clients who have similar portfolios and goals as you can help shed light on your decision. But keep in mind that advisors aren’t likely to hand over the names of clients who have had a bad experience!
What may be more beneficial is to check their regulatory record by visiting one of the following sites:
- Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC)
- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
- North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA)
- CFP Board
And if it’s insurance you’re after, each state insurance department has their own website where you can look up a prospective life insurance agent by name to check that they’re in good standing.
In addition to ‘grilling’ your advisor with the questions above, keep your eyes and ears open! Watch out for these common red flags when you meet with them:
- They don’t ask you about your goals / get to know your priorities
- They don’t explain things well or they oversimplify
- They don’t take the time to make sure you understand
- They’re disorganized
- They’re too sales focused
- They don’t listen to you
While this advice should go a long way in helping you find the right financial partner, it’s still nice to be set up by a friend who has already vetted a potential match for you.
Speaking of which, at Foresters Financial we can help! Visit foresters.com to learn more.