How To Choose A Financial Advisor
Choosing your advisor may be one of the most important financial decisions you make. Your advisor will be your partner in making financial decisions and choosing your investment strategy. Many people call themselves financial advisors or financial planners. Yet, not all financial advisors are created equal! Let’s take a look at how to find the right advisor for you.
Start With a Fee-Only Advisor
The first rule is to screen for a fee-only advisor. Why? Because then you know you have an advisor that puts your interests first. A fee-only advisor is not a stockbroker or insurance salesperson. A fee-only advisor is a Registered Investment Advisor, who is legally required to put your interests first. A fee-only advisor does not get commissions, earn kickbacks, or receive any other type of hidden compensation. To learn more about fee-only advisors and to locate one, check with the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.
Financial planners who have a financial stake in their recommendations to a client face an inherent conflict of interest and cannot be considered objective and unbiased. This can be true even if planners truly believe they have only the best interests of their clients at heart.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of financial advisors in the United States are sellers of financial products. Some or all of their income may depend upon their ability to steer their clients to a limited number of the thousands of financial products available today. These advisors can include stockbrokers, analysts, insurance agents, and financial planners. Many of their clients are not aware of their advisors’ dependence on selling products, or do not recognize its difference.
In fact, NAPFA believes that many of the problems that beset Americans today in their financial affairs—including the mismanagement of debt, failure to protect retirement assets, and poor allocation of savings and investments—relate directly to the conflicts of interest that pervade the marketplace.
Use This Financial Advisor Checklist
What else should you look for in a financial advisor? I recommend the “4 Cs”:
- Competence: Check for experience, education, and reputation.
- Compensation: A fee-only advisor will not be motivated by commissions.
- Credentials: Choose a Registered Investment Advisor. RIAs are required to put your interests first. Also look for credentials such as a Certified Financial Planner (CPA) or a Certified Public Accountant/Personal Financial Specialist (PFS).
- Comfort: You will be trusting this person with your financial future as well as your goals and dreams. Make sure you feel comfortable talking to your advisor and that you feel like your advisor really listens to you! The comfort factor is at least as important as the other factors. Not only do you need to feel listened to, your advisor should be available to you as needed, communicate frequently, be responsive to your calls and emails, and explain strategies in a straightforward manner.
Finally, know that any decision you make does not need to be forever. If you no longer feel as comfortable or confident with you advisor as you did previously, it could be time to find a new advisor. Don’t hesitate or feel shy about changing. After all, it’s your financial security at stake.