In today’s world, we are overwhelmed with a myriad of titles for financial professionals such as financial advisor, financial planner, wealth manager, investment advisor, estate planner, tax planner and accountant. This cornucopia of monikers can make it hard to navigate and find the right financial professional for you. And while each title mentioned above may conjure up a different business model in your head, the fact is that the lines between each have gotten more blurred through the years. The purpose of this article is to help you locate the right financial professional for you, regardless of title. Consider the following criteria when deciding on a financial professional.
What motivates and encourages your financial professional to make the decisions they make? Ask questions to better understand how and why they got into the field. Make sure you have a firm grasp on their financial incentives. How are they compensated for their services, products and advice? There is no one perfect fee structure, but it is important to know if your interests align with the financial professional’s incentives.
We live in a day and age where everyone is a self-proclaimed expert. However, just because someone says they are an expert does not in fact make them an expert. Look into the professional’s educational background and prior work experience. One way to know if your professional is competent is to look for respected certifications and designations in their field. A few examples of designations with well respected curriculum and ethical standards include Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) for investment management, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) for financial planning and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) for tax advice. Finance is a dynamic industry that has constant changes in regulations, laws, and products. Ask about continuing education and what they do to keep up with those changes.
Unbiased and Independent
Great benefit can come from financial professionals who have a breadth of service offerings and an unbiased voice. In many cases, large firms have a product suite that they are incentivized to refer clients to. Instead of working to find the best financial solution, they have a product to sell. Large firms may also have quotas and shareholders to answer to, which may take precedence over your best interests. Being independent and having no products to sell puts a financial professional in a position to make decisions that are in the best interests of his/her clients. Ask your financial professional what range of services they provide and if they have compensation arrangements that motivate them to sell one product over another.
Make sure your professional’s firm’s philosophy matches that of your personal philosophy. You should be able to get some sense of this by reading their website, visiting their office, meeting people in all different functions at the firm and asking them directly. It is also crucial that a firm’s investment philosophy be consistent with your needs and goals.
When you hire a financial professional, the goal is to establish a long-term relationship. One key to ensuring that it is a lasting relationship is your ability to trust the individual or firm you are engaging. Ask questions that will give you meaningful insight into the firm you are considering hiring. Will your money be placed with a well known and financially stable firm like Charles Schwab or Fidelity? Do the professionals you are working with invest their personal assets into the same investments they will be utilizing in your portfolio? How do they fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities?
Do Your Homework
To truly understand how each financial professional addresses the criteria mentioned above will require a thorough and sometimes lengthy discovery process. Also seek input from friends and existing clients of the firms you are considering to get further information. Make sure you interview a number of professionals before making a final decision. Do your homework and inquire until you find a level of comfort you can live with.