Entrusting your financial future to a financial advisor is a high stakes decision. The choice of an advisor is complicated by a system that allows anyone with minimum qualifications to adopt the title of financial advisor or planner. Therefore, it’s crucial to do your research when finding an advisor.
Here are five easy tips that may help you save and protect your financial well-being.
Find an advisor who has experience in working with clients like you—you do not want to be a guinea pig. If you are a business owner or someone who wants to incorporate philanthropy into the financial plan, finding an advisor with niche expertise in this area will serve you well. Ask the advisor for a list of references you may contact who have similar attributes and see if the references talk favorably about the advisor.
2. Clean Record
You can easily determine if advisors have prior regulatory or legal trouble by looking at their required disclosures. Advisors who are Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) file a Form ADV with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Investment brokers are regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
3. Fees and Conflicts of Interest
An advisor will typically use a pricing model of commissions or fixed/flat fee. In a commission pricing structure, advisors may have a conflict in that they are faced with incentives to actively trade or invest in funds that charge front- or back-end expenses. On the other hand, a fixed/flat fee structure aligns the interests of the client and advisor. You should seek out an advisor who is fee-only, meaning the advisor only receives compensation in the form of a fixed fee from you, the client, and no other forms of compensation that may present a conflict of interest. You can seek out a fee-only planner through The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).
4. Credentials: CFP® and CFA® designation
The advisory industry consists of an alphabet soup of designations; there are more than 100 different certifications and designations. You should focus on the two that matter. The Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation typically takes 18-24 months of study, requires a passing score on a ten hour exam, plus three years of experience as a planner. The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) designation is the gold standard for investment management, requiring a passing score on three six-hour exams plus four years of experience.
5. Relationship Expectations
A long-lasting relationship is possible when your expectations are aligned with the advisor. If you want frequent check-ins and regular meetings, be sure that the advisor offers that. You do not want to put your money with a planner and expect ongoing check-ins only to find that your advisor is missing in action when it matters.