Finding an Advisor

Finding the Right Financial Professional

At some point in our lives, many of us turn to a financial professional for help with financial matters. Charting a course with a professional to reach your financial goals can be an exciting adventure, but it shouldn't have to be a blind leap of faith. Before you commit to a long-term relationship, here are some things to think about.

Credentials and area of expertise

Take a look at the credentials of any financial professional you're considering. What degrees, licenses, certifications, and/or financial designations, if any, has he or she earned? These may depend on the professional's area of expertise.

Speaking of expertise, you should find out whether the financial professional concentrates his or her practice in a particular area, or whether he or she has a more broad-based practice. Maybe you're looking for someone with expertise in a particular area, such as business succession planning or investing in real estate and commodities. Or perhaps you want someone who will look at every aspect of your financial situation--from budgets, to saving for college and retirement, to insurance coverage, to tax planning, to estate planning. Obviously, you'll want to make sure that the person you'll be working with has experience in the financial areas for which you're seeking advice or works with other professionals who do.

Experience and reputation

While experience is important, a long track record isn't worth much if it isn't a good one. Even if you get a recommendation from family or friends, you can't be sure how thoroughly they did their research or how their circumstances might be different from yours in subtle but important ways.

If the person you're considering is a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), you can ask him or her for a copy of Form ADV, which reviews an advisor's background, services, fees, and any disciplinary actions. Similarly, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has a BrokerCheck section on its website, www.finra.org, that allows you to check an investment broker's licensing, registration, and any history of disciplinary problems.

Communication skills

A relationship with your financial professional is an ongoing one. To adapt your changing financial circumstances and preferences to the ever-changing, complex world of financial regulation and products, a financial professional must communicate with you over and over again. So you'll want to find someone who is both a good listener and responsive to your needs.

After your initial meeting, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did he or she take the time to fully understand my goals, and do a good job of explaining the proposed approach to meeting those goals?
  • Will we be able to meet or speak regularly about my portfolio or other issues that may arise?
  • Will my e-mail and/or phone calls be promptly answered?

After you've had a few conversations, review your interactions. Is the individual you're considering a thoughtful listener who answers questions patiently and objectively? A good financial professional will put together and implement a viable plan to match your expressed financial goals.

Fair compensation

Financial advice isn't free. All financial professionals get paid and deserve to be fairly compensated. Your job is to make sure you understand how your financial professional is paid. Some are fee-only--their compensation depends entirely on the services they perform. They may be paid by the hour, by the project, or on a percentage of assets managed. But others get at least some of their income from commissions, which are based on the investments they sell. Compare the various compensation alternatives and consider the one with which you are most comfortable.

Conclusion

Before you spend time, energy, and money investing in a long-term relationship with a financial professional, make sure you feel comfortable with the person you've chosen to help you navigate the financial world. Trust your instincts, and remember, you are in control.