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Expert Interview with Mackey McNeill on Hiring a Financial Planner

Expert Interview with Mackey McNeill on Hiring a Financial Planner

When it comes to financial planning, the client - not the planner - should be in the driver's seat, says Mackey McNeill, president and CEO of Mackey Advisors and Ignite Prosperity Inc.

"Financial planning should be a contact sport," she says. "People will only follow a financial plan if they have some skin in the game."

To help get her clients off the bench, Mackey and her team created The Prosperity Experience, an interactive and ongoing process to help individuals and families create the best life possible.

We recently checked in with Mackey to get her advice on hiring a financial advisor and coming up with a plan you'll actually follow through on. Here's what she had to say:

Can you tell us a little about the background of Mackey Advisors? When and why was your company started?

Honestly, I started Mackey Advisors as a way to raise my child and bring in some money. In the early '80s, that combination was really hard to come by. I was a CPA, Certified Public Accountant, and doing outsourced Controller and CFO work for small companies.

A few years later, I bought a tax preparation firm. As the business grew, we took on more individual clients by doing tax planning and tax prep. Soon these individuals were asking us for financial planning advice and investment advice. They trusted us, and I couldn't find a financial planner I trusted enough to refer my clients to, so I decided to get a PFS designation. A PFS, or Personal Financial Specialist, is specialty credential awarded by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to CPAs who specialize in helping individuals plan all aspects of their wealth.

It was a lot of work, but we finally came up with The Prosperity Experience™, our award-winning financial planning process, and we haven't looked back!

What services do you offer, and who should be using them?

Well, we have services for small businesses and individuals. We still do outsourced bookkeeping, controller and CFO services, as well as tax planning and prep. For individuals, we offer The Prosperity Experience™, our interactive financial planning process, and fee-only investment management.

Everyone should have a financial plan! People tend to think, When I get some money, make more money or get to some "higher level," I'll get a financial planner. This is not the case! A good financial planner helps their clients get to that "higher level." Our clients vary greatly. We have boomers, gen Y and gen X. Our "sweet spot" are 35- to 45-year-olds in a life transition, which could be a big promotion, a marriage, a child, etc., and 55- to 65-year-olds getting ready to retire and looking for a partner in creating the financially independent life they have always envisioned.

What sets you apart from other financial advising firms?

We are different in a few ways. First and foremost, we look at the whole picture. We put an individual's or couple's goals, values and intentions at the heart of our financial plans. Everything we do comes from this, kind of like a good strategic plan flows from the business's vision and mission.

Second, our financial planning process is just that, a process. Many financial planners ask some basic financial questions and create a plan for their client. We go through two to four goal-setting meetings before we even get to financial info. It takes between three and nine months to create a person's unique plan.

Third, we do not judge or tell our clients what to do. We see ourselves as facilitators. We help our clients create their financial plan, not the other way around. Everyone is unique, and therefore, their financial plan should be, too.

Why is Mackey so passionate about helping customers experience a financially happy and prosperous life?

When a client goes from doubt, confusion and unknowing to confidence and clarity, it is a big high for me (and Andy, our director of personal services, too)! Like, open the champagne and celebrate, kind of high. You can see it on their faces and in their div posture. They look different from when they came in to see us the first time. They feel better about their finances, so they act with more confidence. They live more fulfilled lives, have more fun with their families and friends, give more generously to their communities - basically, they spread the prosperity. It's contagious!

What sorts of questions should individuals and families ask when looking for a financial advisor?

  • How are you paid? Never do business with someone who doesn't disclose.
  • Do you follow the fiduciary standard?
  • What is your training? Credentials? Background?
  • A question for yourself is, do you feel comfortable with this person? Can you ask them anything? If not, they aren't your advisor, even if they are the advisor for your wealthiest friends. You must be able to feel comfortable asking your advisor just about anything. Money is very personal!
  • What is your process? The best advisors have a clearly defined financial planning process that helps clients discover and clarify their goals and dreams and map a clear plan to achieve them. If they can't describe their process, walk away.

What are some red flags that an advisor doesn't have your best interests at heart?

If it is all about insurance or annuities, you should just walk away. An advisor who is really a salesperson in disguise is mostly concerned with selling you an insurance or annuity product, because that is where the big up-front money comes from. A good advisor should be more concerned, initially, with clarifying your goals and dreams and crafting your plan. Once your plan is clear, insurance may be needed, but if you are starting there, put on the brakes.

If they are pouring on the fear, this is another red flag. Many advisors use a lot of pressure, generally focused on your worst fears, to get you to hurry up and make a decision. Ask yourself, do you want to wake up every morning for the rest of your life with that sick feeling in your stomach knowing you made a purchase that wasn't in your best interest? Or would you rather walk away and work with someone who treats you with respect, speaks to you like a partner and clearly explains your options? Choosing an advisor is as intimate and important as choosing a significant other.

What are the biggest concerns your clients come to you with? What are the most common mistakes you help them correct?

Biggest concern: how to pull it all together. How to balance competing demands. Most of us don't have enough money to do everything we can think of, but we have enough to do most of what is really important. Our job, as advisors, is to help clients discover what is really important to them. To take them out of their heads and into their hearts.

The mistake they make most often is choosing something - an advisor, an investment, an insurance product - because their friend did. What is best for you is likely not what is best for your friend. Money is an individual journey; we have assets, liabilities, cash flow, goals, special circumstances, and I haven't yet seen any two people or couples just alike, so there are no two identical plans. Our fingerprints aren't the same, so why do we think our financial plans should be?

Why is asking the question "what do I really want?" so critical to establishing financial goals?

As human beings, we are not taught effective goal setting. People only work for things that create positive emotions, basically make them feel good. Every goal-setting book out there starts with a piece of paper (or a computer screen) and asks people to write down what they want, but that is all in their heads - they THINK of what they want. But they will only work, save and scrimp for something they FEEL they want - so it isn't just the question that is important. It is the question, with a PROCESS that gets people out of their heads and into their emotions. When they FEEL it, they KNOW it, and our process gets them there. That is why they are so excited when the plan is done.

What's the next step to take after answering that question? How do you help clients take the next steps to their goals?

It isn't just one question. It is a range of questions. You have to explore all the possibilities. Basically shoot for the stars...then you can come back to earth. As for steps, a good planner keeps them on track. Life is busy, and sometimes we need nudging. That is OK; that is what a planner is for.

What is confident action when it comes to money management? Why do you want to empower confident action?

Confident action is the difference in a life of joy and one of worry. If I know what my dreams and goals are, and how I am going to get there, then I can confidently take my family on that European vacation - and enjoy every minute. I'm not going to worry about what is going to happen when I get home to a pile of credit card bills! Confident action = freedom from worry, and when it comes to money, it doesn't get much better than that.

How often should people revisit their financial goals and revise their plans?

At least once a year and when there is a major life change (marriage, divorce, new baby, etc.). In the beginning, I think more often is best. Planning is a new process for most folks, and they gain confidence by updating their plans more frequently at first. Then once they are seeing how everything is working, they can go to once a year.

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