Finding a new financial advisor, whether it’s your first time working with one or you’re a seasoned investor looking to spice up your portfolio, can be absolutely exhausting. A simple google search of “financial advisors near me” reveals pages and pages of endless options, and it’s not too long before analysis paralysis can start to set in.
And here’s where it gets trickier: not all financial advisors have your best interests at heart or the knowledge to really maximize your money.
Think of the relationship with your financial advisor like a marriage or long-term partnership. You’re likely going to be working with this person for the rest of your investing life.
Sure, divorce is an option – but just like in the real world, it can get messy and costly.
Fortunately, you can ask a handful of key questions to weed out the bad eggs from the golden ones.
Here are five questions to ask your new financial advisor.
1. “Are you a fiduciary?”
You’ve probably heard this word thrown around a lot and may not know exactly what it means. The legal definition of a fiduciary is “an individual or organization that has a legal duty of care and loyalty to another person (or persons).”
In simplest terms, it’s someone who has a legal and ethical duty to you to act on your behalf, in your best interest financially.
For me, this is a non-negotiable. It’s always reassuring to know that the person handling your hard-earned cash is quite literally legally bound to make decisions with your success in mind.
FYI – all Personal Capital advisors are licensed, registered fiduciary advisors, so this is a great place to start.
2. “What are your qualifications?”
Just like in dating, hiring, or any other partnership, it’s important to know someone’s strengths and weaknesses right off the bat. As you ask questions about your potential advisor’s qualifications, here are a few things to listen for.
It’s important to note that a bachelor’s degree is required for many of the exams required to become a certified financial advisor in the U.S. As far as what they studied? It varies, and it’s not always a significant factor. Many advisors have their masters, but it’s important to note that an MBA is not the end all be all. I studied Theatre and Communications in college, and look at me now!
You don’t need to understand everything about these licenses, just that they have them. The required licenses are Series 7 and Series 63, but many advisors get additional licensing, which can be a big perk depending on your financial goals.
Additional certifications are common among financial advisors. A great one to look for is the CFP® or Certified Financial Planner certification. The CFP® board has some of the highest standards and ethics codes, so this is a great way to know you’re working with a knowledgeable and trustworthy advisor.
Compatibility (aka Good Vibes)
You may appreciate different qualities in a financial advisor depending on your personality type. Do you want an advisor who only calls when it’s absolutely necessary or someone who keeps you up-to-date every step of the way?
Are you more comfortable working with a 25+ year veteran with a steady track record or someone who might be a greener but feisty up-and-comer?
These considerations are 100% based on your preferences and personality. Again, this is a decades-spanning partnership, so don’t ignore the vibes you get – it’s an important factor!
3. “Can you help me achieve _______ goals?”
Do you want to retire early?
Buy a second home on a faraway island where you can escape for the summer?
Prep for your kid’s college funds?
Whatever the “______” is, make sure your financial advisor is the best person to help you achieve it. This is why it’s essential to set clear financial goals before your appointment.
Say you set an aggressive goal, like I did, of saving $100,000 by age 25. You’d want to work with an advisor who isn’t intimidated by big numbers and short timelines.
If you’re having a hard time clarifying your goals, ask yourself questions like:
When do I want to retire? And how much do I want to have saved?
Do I have short and long-term savings goals? What are they?
Am I more comfortable with high risk and the potential rewards, or would I prefer a slow and steady approach?
What expenses do I need to keep in mind for the future that investing may help me prepare for? (i.e.; weddings, college, buying a home, etc.)
Advisors can be highly intuitive, but they are not mind readers. Come prepared to share your goals, and ask specifically how they’ve helped others achieve those same goals.
4. “What kind of clientele do you work with?”
You may feel like you’re breaking some forbidden rule asking about other clientele, but it’s one of the most important questions you can ask!
Suppose your advisor typically works with seasoned big spenders with massive portfolios. In that case, they may not be the best fit for a first-time investor with a small budget and vice versa.
You don’t need to get into hyper-specific details. A simple “tell me about the last time you worked with a client who has similar goals to me. How is it going?” should open this conversation up and tell you what you need to know.
Think of their client stories as your investment fitting room; this is about helping you “try on” your potential investment journey before you buy.
5. “What are your total costs?”
What kind of money expert would I be if I didn’t tell you to make sure you ask for all, and yes, I mean ALL of the costs?
Your advisor may be compensated in a few ways: through fees, commissions, and/or a salary.
A quick breakdown of these terms:
A fee-only advisor charges an hourly fee, usually paid annually
A commissioned advisor makes a percentage from sales of investments and products
A salaried advisor makes a salary from their brokerage but may receive performance bonuses based on bringing in new clients or selling certain products
Each brokerage will operate differently, so make sure you’re asking for a full breakdown of costs right from the start. It’s also important to note that some advisors are paid on a hybrid model, depending on the product.
If you ever feel like the advisor is withholding information on compensation over the course of this conversation, that is a HUGE red flag. When a financial advisor isn’t transparent with you about their compensation, it’s likely they won’t be transparent with you about your investments.
Read More: How Does a Financial Advisor Get Paid?
The Bottom Line
Now that you’ve interviewed a few potential advisors, you might have tough choices to make, especially if you have great interactions with more than one at similar cost/experience levels. This is an excellent problem to have!
So here’s my last piece of advice, and this a big one: Trust your gut.
Recall the image of financial matrimony – at the end of the day, who do you want to spend your investing lifetime with?
Want a better way to manage your investments? Personal Capital’s free and secure online financial dashboard is the financial tool that I check daily. You can use the tools to see all of your accounts in one place, analyze your investments, and plan for long-term goals saving for retirement.
If you’re looking for a financial advisor, Personal Capital offers fee-based fiduciary advisors.
Personal Capital compensates Tori Dunlap of Her First $100k (“Author”) for providing the content contained in this article. Compensation not to exceed $500. Author is not a client of Personal Capital Advisors Corporation. Additionally, in a separate referral arrangement between Author and Personal Capital Corporation (“PCC”), Author is paid $70 and $150 for each person who uses Author’s webpage (www.HerFirst100k.com) to register with Personal Capital and links at least $100,000 in investable assets to Personal Capital’s Free Financial Dashboard. As a result of these arrangements, Author may financially benefit from referring potential clients to Personal Capital and/or be incentivized to present blog content that is favorable to PCC. No fees or other amounts will be charged to investors by Author or Personal Capital as a result of the Referral Arrangement. Investors that are referred to PCC and subsequently subscribe for investment advisory services provided by PCC’s affiliated adviser, Personal Capital Advisors Corporation (“PCAC”) will not pay increased management fees or other similar compensation to Author, PCC or PCAC as a result of this arrangement. The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.