There’s more to picking a financial adviser than going with the first one you find. There are steps you should take and key questions to ask before making your final decision to ensure you are hiring the right financial expert. Benzinga discusses the most important questions to ask your financial adviser.
Important Questions to Ask a Potential Financial Adviser
When searching for a financial adviser, you should ideally have two or three potential advisers in mind. While it may seem awkward or intrusive, a phone call to ask the following questions will go a long way in determining whether your potential adviser is the right match for you. A good adviser is happy to take the time to talk to you about becoming a potential client. The call or in-person meeting will give you a feel of who they are, their credentials and if they are the right person to advise you.
1. Are You a Fiduciary?
A fiduciary is someone who is legally required to act solely in their client’s best financial interest, ahead of their own interests. You want to make sure you work with a fiduciary to reduce the amount of risk. If you’re working with someone who is certified to be an investment manager or with a CFP®, then they will be a fiduciary. You can search FINRA’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) site for the adviser you are considering; once you locate the firm, click on their Part 2 Brochure where you can see if they are a fiduciary.
2. Do You Have Any Disclosures?
Disclosures are marks on an adviser’s permanent record denoting a history of criminal wrongdoing or consumer complaints. Technically you do not need to ask your adviser if they have disclosures as you can find them in public records in the form of their ADV at the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) site. However, it is still important to ask your adviser face to face to see if they will be forthcoming with their past behavior. Question your adviser and then confirm whether or not they have disclosures on their ADV form.
3. Do You Have Any Specific Certifications?
This important question determines the types of advisement that can be provided by the person you’re working with. If you are looking for an adviser to help create a financial plan or prepare for retirement, you may prefer a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®). However, if you also need an adviser who can provide estate planning, you need to make sure they have a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) or a Chartered Trust and Estate Planner (CTEP) certification. These certifications require specific qualifications including education and passing certain exams, like the Series 6, which is required for investing.
4. What Services Do You Offer, and Do You Have Any Specialties?
After determining the credentials of your adviser, you should dig deeper into their actual services. Just because an adviser has a CFP® does not mean they offer every type of planning service. Financial advisers can offer a variety of services including long- and short-term financial planning, estate planning, investment management and tax consultation. If you know you need assistance with taxes and retirement planning, you will want to find a financial planner who can handle both or a firm that can offer both services.
5. How Are You Paid?
Advisers can be paid through a salary, commission, fees or a combination of those. Depending on how they’re paid can potentially impact the motivation behind what your adviser suggests to you. For example, if they are paid based purely on commission, the adviser has a financial stake in you investing more through them or buying specific services from them. Benzinga recommends that most people who are looking for an adviser pick a “fee-based” or “fee-only” adviser. They are the ones most likely to be fiduciaries and will have your best financial interest at heart.
6. What Other Costs Will I Be Charged for Your Services?
Advisers are paid differently depending on what you need them for and if you will keep them on an ongoing basis. If you just need an adviser for the project of helping you put together a financial plan, they may charge by the hourly or project rate. If you need someone on retainer, they can charge you depending on how much money they’re managing for you or with an annual flat fee. Many financial advisers charge a percent of the assets they are managing for you. For example, if your adviser manages $200,000 of your money and charges 1% of the assets under management (AUM), then you will pay them $2,000 per year to invest your money for you. It’s important to understand these fee structures upfront and what impacts changes in fees.
7. What Investment Philosophy Do You Follow?
An investment philosophy is the approach advisers take to investment advice itself. The investor should be the ultimate driver. Some advisers lean towards recommending more risk, socially responsible investing or growth investing. It’s important to know where your personal values lay and the amount of risk you’re personally comfortable with. Most financial advisers will have you take a risk tolerance survey so that they can create an investment strategy tailored just for you.
8. How Do You Measure the Success of My Investment Portfolio?
Some advisers seek to meet the market, while others aim higher. Either way, they should have a measurement of success, even when the market is down. Success may also be partially determined by how long you plan to be invested and what your risk level is. The person you’re interviewing should provide a clear answer.
9. How Often Will We Communicate?
There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question, but your adviser should tell you that you will communicate as frequently as you need. Some people like to get yearly, quarterly, weekly or daily updates on their finances. The right adviser for you will be the one who is willing to meet you as much as you need.
10. How Long Have Your Longest Clients Been With You?
For seasoned advisers, this is a great question to ask because it gives an indication of how happy investors tend to be with their services. You don’t want to work with someone who has a high rate of client turnover. An alternative to this question is: what would your clients say about you?
Best Financial Advisors
Questions to Ask Your Current Financial Adviser
You may already have an adviser and you’re preparing to go into your next meeting with them. Let’s take a look at some important questions to be checking in with your adviser about.
1. How are My Investments Performing?
You probably get monthly statements, but it’s usually a lot of data without much context behind it. You can check in with your adviser quarterly to discuss your investments and the state of the market and if they recommend making any changes. These conversations can happen more or less frequently depending on your risk and how active an investor you are.
2. Is My Financial Plan Missing Anything?
Your financial plan will change over time, so it’s a good idea to ask your adviser every year if there’s anything your plan is missing. For example, maybe you don’t have enough of an emergency fund or you’re planning to have children but haven’t started factoring a child into your financial plan. Your adviser will work with you to integrate these aspects.
3. Am I On Track for Retirement?
Your portfolio may be performing at a rate you’re happy with, but are you on track for retirement? This needs to be part of the conversation every year. If you’re lucky, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Switching Financial Advisers
Not every investor and adviser will be the perfect match, and there may come a time when you need to find someone else. Before you break it off with your adviser, take some time to ask yourself honest questions.
Can I Manage My Investments on My Own?
A lot of people don’t need an adviser and can manage their investments on their own, especially if they go into passive investments that require less checking in.
Am I Happy with the Performance of my Adviser?
You may be looking at your annual performance and seeing that the market was up but you lost money or only performed slightly better. Is he or she there when you call or get right back to you?
What Do I Need That I’m Lacking?
You need to be honest with yourself about why you’re considering switching advisers. Maybe you need more communication or advice. Have you tried addressing these problems head-on? Sometimes issues are worth fixing, but if your performance isn’t meeting your expectations and it’s costing you money, it may be time to move on.
Trust and Comfort
At the end of the day, you need to be comfortable with your financial adviser and genuinely trust them. They should feel like a trusted friend that you can turn to when you have a question and know you can be honest with them. Investing your money through an adviser is a delicate balance between using your head and understanding your gut.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I get a financial adviser?
Whether or not to get a financial adviser depends on your financial situation and goals. If you feel overwhelmed or uncertain, a financial adviser can provide guidance and expertise. However, if you are confident and have the resources to manage your finances effectively, you may not need one. Consider your own circumstances and weigh the benefits against the costs.
Can I manage my money on my own?
It is possible to manage your finances without professional assistance by having the right knowledge, discipline and tools. It requires understanding personal finance, budgeting, investing and financial planning, as well as staying updated on financial matters. It is important to stick to a budget, track expenses, and make informed decisions for your financial well-being.
Can I trust my financial adviser?
When deciding whether to trust a financial adviser, it is important to conduct thorough research and due diligence. Consider their certifications, qualifications and experience,as well as seeking recommendations and conducting background checks. Building a trusting relationship is crucial, based on open communication and feeling comfortable and confident in the adviser’s abilities and integrity. Trust is earned over time through consistent, reliable and transparent advice and actions.