Finding the right person to entrust with your hard-earned cash can be stressful. And the economic turmoil of the past few years has only dampened consumers’ trust of financial experts further.
The best way to minimize those jitters: do a lot of research before you choose.
When searching for a financial advisor, one of the first things to consider is how they make their money: by selling investment products or by giving financial advice (i.e. charging a flat fee)? If what you are looking for is orientation on how to handle your money, stay away from advisors who work on commission, as they may focus on selling you the investments that line their pockets — not necessarily yours.
To begin your search, look into self-regulatory organizations and government agencies. The Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards is a nationally recognized organization that grants the CFP designation to advisors who have undergone rigorous learning and testing in various financial planning fields, including insurance and risk management, employee benefits, investment planning, income tax- planning and retirement and estate planning. You also search for a CFP and any information on complaints or disciplinary actions within their website.
Check out the Better Business Bureau, too: here you can find information about an advisor’s history, specifically whether any complaints have been filed against them.
Another place to search is the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), an organization of insurance regulators. Here you can check for qualified advisors who sell insurance products.
Investment advisors, meanwhile, must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other state regulators. The SEC regulates investment advisors and all securities dealers. In addition, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the largest independent regulator for securities firms in the United States, has a tool called Broker Check that enables you to check the background of your investment professional.
Financial advisors work with different fee structures depending on the type of service they provide. For example, a financial planner could earns commissions from selling investment or insurance products.
A fee-based financial planner, on the other hand, charges an upfront fee for providing financial advice, but also charges a commission on security trades or insurance purchases.
A fee-offset financial planner charges an annual or hourly fee, but if the client purchases a financial product from the advisor, the annual or hourly fee is reduced.
A fee-only planner earns no commission; they charge a specific fee, which could either be an hourly or a percentage of the client’s assets under management (typically 1%). Since they do not work on commission, these types of financial advisors are not incentivised to recommend financial products only because of their high commissions.
Important as they are, fees should not be the only consideration in your search for a financial advisor. Here’s what else you should look for:
Will you get along with this person in a business setting? If the advisor seems aloof and not in tune with your needs, you might want to reconsider. You need to make sure the person you select will listen to you and understand your needs.
Are they available to answer your questions? Does this person have hundreds of clients? Do they seem overwhelmed? How much time will they be able to dedicate to reviewing your portfolio and answering your questions or concerns? How many times a year will they meet with you to go over changes or modifications in your portfolio?
Who will be handling your portfolio?
Will an associate be evaluating your plan or will the person you are interviewing be doing this job? It’s better to talk directly to the person who will be handling your account.
Credentials and Experience
How much work and client interaction experience do they have? Ask what type of formal training and education they have and how many years of experience they’ve accrued. Do they have investment or life insurance broker licenses? Are you allowed to see examples or representations of financial plans? This way you have a better idea of how detailed the plan is and how effective it can be.
When looking for a planner, you can also look at some of these professional organizations:
The Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC)
(PFS) Personal Financial Specialist
Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC)