• Pat Schultz

7 questions to ask a potential financial advisor

Planning for retirement can be one of the most important tasks you undertake during your working years. Due to the time and knowledge that financial planning requires, it's no wonder many people choose to enlist the help of a financial advisor or wealth manager.

But not all financial planners are created equal.

It's vital that you hire the best financial advisor or investment advisor for you. The one who can provide the financial advice that's relevant to your long term financial goals.

As you start looking for a good financial advisor it's natural ask your friends or family members who they use. That's a great place to start.

However, unless your financial situation is identical to the person you're asking for a recommendation (and let's face it, no two financial situations are identical), the advisor who is a great fit for them may not be the right advisor for you.

That's why it's important to have a few interview questions ready when you meet with a potential advisor.

The following questions are designed to help you see “behind the curtain” of any financial planner, wealth manager, or investment advisor firm you may consider entrusting with your financial future.

1) Do you address all areas of my finances, or are your recommendations focused on one area?

We recommend using a financial advisor who can serve as a single point of contact for all of your financial needs. In order to maximize your financial future an advisor needs to have a comprehensive understanding of your financial plan, investment strategy, and long-term goals.

Without knowing these things an advisor can’t serve you as well as they can if they have that knowledge.

We also recommend using financial advisors who can facilitate meetings with an attorney who can assist with estate planning or drafting wills and trusts. Some financial advisors will also accompany you to meetings with an attorney to ensure the documents drafted align with your overall financial plan.

2) How many clients do you serve and are their financial situations similar to mine?

Financial firms vary greatly in size and scope. It is important to know both the approximate number of clients financial advisors have as well as their approximate client assets under management (AUM).

For example, if a firm has $100 million in assets under management and 300 clients, you can assume that their average client has about $300k under management. If you are significantly above or below that amount the firm may not be the best fit for you.

3) How often will I hear from you?

Financial advisors are required to offer a thorough client review at least once per year. With some firms that’s the only time you can expect to hear from them.

Other financial advisors go significantly above that. They may offer reviews 2-4 times per year, send out newsletters and videos to explain current financial headlines, and provide regular updates on tax and legal issues.

We recommend that clients be as informed as possible when it comes to their financial well being, so you may want to consider a firm that communicates with you more often.

We also suggest working with a financial professional who provides you with a direct contact to call or email when needed. When you need help or investment advice you don't want to talk to someone at a call center who doesn't know you or understand your needs.

4) Do you have the knowledge and experience necessary to help me achieve my financial goals?

The financial world is full of designations and acronyms that can be confusing. How do you know if you need a CFP (Certified Financial Planner), CPA (Certified Public Accountant), CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), EA (Enrolled Agent), FRM (Financial Risk Manager), or any other designation?

Our recommendation is to use a financial planning firm with a combination of all of these designations. Each one brings a different point of view and skills to the planning and investment management process.

This helps provide a combination of experience and education that gives you a well rounded financial plan and investment management strategy.

5) Are you able to help if I have any financial issues?

Financial advisors should be able to assist you with solving issues such as IRS audits, tax issues, real estate purchases and sales, college savings, 401k questions, etc.

While a financial advisor may not have all the answers, they should be connected to a network of resources who can help them resolve problems and offer advice when situations arise.

6) Where do you keep my money and how do I access it?

At the end of the day the money your financial advisor is managing is your money. You should be able to see where it is and how it’s behaving.

Your financial advisor will use a custodian for your assets, such as TD Ameritrade/Schwab or a similar company. That custodian holds your funds and provides reporting to you and to the IRS.

You should be able to view your accounts at any time through a custodial login that your advisor provides for you.

7) How much does it cost to work with you?

Fees vary greatly between wealth management firms. Never use a firm that isn’t up front and candid about what their services will cost you.

Many firms charge both a financial planning fee and a fee for investment management services.

The financial planning fee may vary based on the complexity of your financial situation. The investment management fee is normally calculated as a percentage of the assets they are managing for you.

Both fees may be able to be deducted from your accounts using pre-tax dollars, which means you save money on your taxes.

It only makes sense to hire a financial advisor if the services they provide exceed the fees being charged. The financial plan they present you with should clearly outline the benefits you will receive, and the benefits should exceed what you will pay.

Bonus Question: Taxes will likely be my largest retirement expense. Can you help me owe less?

Believe it or not, the overwhelming majority of financial advisors are prohibited from talking to their clients about taxes.

However, if your financial advisor has a Certified Public Accountant and Enrolled Agent on their team they will be able to help you with taxes. That is one reason we recommend using a firm with a variety of professionals who can help with all aspects of your financial plan.

The Bottom Line

Finding the right advisor reduces the stress of retirement planning and provides the peace of mind that you're on track to reach your financial goals.

These questions are meant to guide you as you look for the right financial planner for you and your family. If you're looking for a financial advisor we would love to answer these questions and any others you may have to see if we'd be a good fit for you. To get started, click here to schedule a 30 minute into call.


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