Deciding to hire a financial advisor can be a tough decision for many investors. Once you’ve made this decision, how do you go about finding the right advisor for you? Here are six questions to ask when choosing a financial advisor:
How do you get paid?
Fee-only advisors receive no compensation from the sale of investment or insurance products. When selecting a financial advisor, ask yourself whether you feel that a financial advisor who receives a significant portion of their compensation from the sale of financial products can really be counted on to recommend solutions that are in your best interest?
Are you the next Madoff?
One of the tactics used by Bernard Madoff to perpetrate his fraud was to send clients his own statements instead of statements generated by a third-party custodian like Charles Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and others. A third-party custodian provides periodic (monthly or at least quarterly) statements independent of any reports provided by the advisor. You should never give your investment dollars directly to a financial advisor, they should always be sent directly to the custodian.
This is critical if the advisor will be providing on-going investment advice. In fact it is a deal-killer if this is not the arrangement. If the advisor says something like “… we send out our own statements to our clients…” end the conversation and find another advisor.
Are we the exception or the norm for you?
Ask your financial advisor about their client base. If you are a corporate employee looking for help planning for the exercise of your stock options, you should ask the adviser about their knowledge and experience in dealing with clients like you. A financial advisor who deals primarily with teachers or public sector employees might not be the right choice for you. Likewise if the advisor’s typical client has a minimum of $1 million to invest and your portfolio is more modest, this advisor might not be a good fit for you.
What can you do for me?
If the advisor’s primary service is focused in an area like constructing bond portfolios for their clients and you are looking for a financial planner to construct a comprehensive financial plan for you, this advisor may not be a good match. Make sure to find someone who offers the types of services and advice that you are seeking.
What are your conflicts of interest?
Financial advisors who are registered representatives will often be incentivized to sell insurance or annuity products promoted by their broker dealer or employer. Ask how they select the financial and investment products they recommend to clients. Ask them directly about ALL forms of compensation they will receive from working with you, and if they will disclose this information on an ongoing basis. Ask them if there are any restrictions regarding the products they can recommend.
Do you act in a fiduciary capacity towards your clients?
In laymen’s terms, you are asking if the adviser is obligated to put your interests first. The brokerage industry uses the suitability standard, but in my opinion this falls far short of a true Fiduciary Standard. This argument continues in the financial services industry as the regulators work through this issue.
The questions listed above are just a few of the many questions you should ask when choosing a new financial advisor or to ask of an advisor with whom you currently have a relationship.
As an investor, it is ultimately up to you to select the right financial advisor. Do your homework and due diligence. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers (NAPFA), the largest professional organization of fee-only advisors, has a guide to selecting an advisor called “Pursuit of a Financial Adviser Field Guide,” which is an excellent resource for those seeking the help of a professional financial advisor.
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