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How to Choose a Financial Advisor

Considering a financial advisor? Financial advisors can be a significant help for you to plan financially and stay on course. But for some, choosing a financial advisor can be stressful process as they are not even sure where to start.

Financial advisors are not one size fits all. They vary by type, services, and fee structures. Not surprisingly, they also vary in personalities. Some you will simply click with better than others.

Let’s discuss the types of advisors first. There are currently three primary types. Some advisory firms may have one or all of these options.

Roboadvisor: With a roboadvisor, there is little to no human interaction. These systems focus primarily on investing. Investment decisions are based on an algorithm. Most roboadvisors ask you to input basic personal financial information, risk tolerance, and goals. Investments are then adjusted according to the information. Roboadvisors are going to be the cheapest and simplest option. However, the services will be limited, and you have little ability to ask questions and express concerns about your investments.

Online financial advisor: These types of advisors are accessed virtually. Sometimes, this type of access is provided in addition to a roboadvisor. Online financial advisors tend to be cheaper than your traditional advisor, but ability to connect and communicate is limited.

Traditional advisor: Traditional advisors tend to be the costliest type of advisor, but they also provide the most personalized services. With traditional advisors, you have the ability to develop a relationship with your advisor that is more difficult to create with the other types of advisors.

So how do you determine what type of financial advisor will best suit your needs?

First, determine the services you need. Do you need help with investment decisions or a comprehensive financial plan? Roboadvisors are going to offer the least amount of services, and there won’t be much flexibility with the services offered. Traditional advisors will likely provide the most services.

If you need several or more detailed services, you probably should consider a traditional advisor. Even within the scope of traditional advisors there is a wide range of services offered. Some traditional advisors only manage IRA and brokerage accounts. Some are more of a one-stop financial shop, offering services including ongoing holistic financial planning, annual tax planning, preparing tax returns, being available whenever you need to answer questions about things like what percentage you should be contributing to your 401k from year to year or whether it’s a good time to refinance your mortgage, and more.

Second, determine the type of communication you would like to have. If you need limited to no communication about limited services, a roboadvisor may work. If you would rather have the ability to meet, ask questions, and regularly communicate with an advisor, a traditional advisor is a better fit.

Finally, determine the fee structure you are most comfortable with. Financial advisors should get paid for their work. So, don’t get frustrated at the fact that some payment is required.

There are two major ways they’re paid. Some are commission-based, meaning they are paid based on your purchase of a financial product like an annuity or life insurance. Other advisor are fee-only, meaning they are paid a pre-disclosed fee and only paid directly by their clients.

To use this term, they must not receive kickbacks or commissions from anywhere else. Often, this is an hourly fee or a percentage of your assets (like 1%). The third way some advisors are paid is called fee and commission. They are paid commissions on selling insurance, annuities or mutual funds as well as getting paid a pre-disclosed fee directly by the client.

If you find that a traditional advisor is best for you, have an initial meeting with him or her to determine if you are comfortable with them, how they are compensated, and the services they offer.

Selecting a financial advisor is a big decision, so prepare questions that you desire to ask beforehand. Here are some suggested questions:

Question #1: Are you a fiduciary? They answer to this question should be “yes,” though not all advisors are legally required to act in a client’s best interest. A fiduciary is someone who is required to put your interests above their own. For a financial advisor, this means putting your financial interests above how much they get paid. You may want to get it in writing. Don’t worry, a true fiduciary will not hesitate to do this.

Question #2: Tell me about your qualifications. See if they have any financial certifications like the CFP®, or Certified Financial Planner certification.

Ask what their typical client looks like. And ask about their experience. While experience isn’t everything, it certainly helps.

Question #3: How do you get paid? We’ve already mentioned the types of pay structures. You can verify this by reading the company’s Form ADV or the newly required Form CRS. Use discretion with anyone who calls himself or herself a financial advisor but may only get paid if you purchase something.

Question #4: Outside of your payment, what are my costs? Make sure you know the full cost of business.

Question #5: What services are included in the cost? Make sure you know what you are paying for and that you don’t miss out on any services that are included.

Question #6: How does our relationship work? How often do we meet? Get on the same page with the advisor regarding communication frequency and type. Ask what is expected of you when there is a question or concern.

Question #7: What is included in your financial planning services? There may be some services of which you are not aware but may be of importance to you. So get a good understanding of what your financial advisor can do for you.

Question #8: What is your investment philosophy? This is very important. You need to trust their investment strategy, especially during down markets.

Question #9: If I move everything over to you, are there tax ramifications? Shifting assets from one account to another can sometimes create a taxable event. Before you start moving assets over, make sure you know the financial implications. A good advisor will look at this closely and communicate it clearly to you before moving any accounts.

Selecting a financial advisor that is right for you can be stressful. Reduce your stress by equipping yourself with some basic knowledge and questions. This can go a long way to help you find your first or next financial advisor.


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