10 Important Questions to Ask When Choosing a Financial Advisor

Choosing the right financial advisor is not a task that should be taken lightly. The right financial advisor can create a plan to save, invest, and grow your money to set you up for a comfortable retirement. But a financial advisor who dispenses bad financial advice can actually harm your financial future.

Compounding the problem is the fact that anyone can hang a shingle and call himself a financial advisor. There is nothing preventing someone with no formal education, professional certifications, or experience from renting an office space and going into business telling people how they should invest their money.

If you are in the market for a good financial planner, you don’t have to let the lack of industry oversight keep you from finding someone who can steer you in the right direction in the complicated world of investing. With a little knowledge of what to look for, you can easily identify those who have the right stuff and avoid those who don’t.

The following are 10 questions you can ask potential financial advisors to see if they are a good match for your needs:

What Are Your Credentials?

One of the easiest ways to tell if you are dealing with financial professionals is to ask about their credentials. Do they possess any licenses, certifications, or any other formal qualifications? It isn’t easy to earn formal recognition as a financial professional, and you should view a lack of any qualifying credential as a red flag.

There are four different types of credentials that would qualify an individual to offer financial advice: the Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), and Personal Financial Specialist (PFS).

The CFP requires the completion of a comprehensive board exam, while the ChFC does not. RIAs are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to manage portfolios of securities. PSFs are Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) who have passed a rigorous exam covering various areas of financial planning such as insurance, investments, retirement, estate, and tax planning.

How Long Have You Been in Business?

If you need to have a surgery of some kind, who would you rather perform the surgery: a doctor who just completed a surgery residency last week or someone who has been working as a surgeon for over 20 years?

Experience matters.

Having the right credentials to offer advice on financial matters is definitely important, but another important factor is how long someone has been in business.

While it probably isn’t necessary to go with a financial advisor with two decades of experience, it also isn’t a good idea to choose one with limited experience. Having a particular credential can reveal that a person is experienced. To become a CFP, for example, a person must have a minimum of three years of financial planning experience.

What Services Do You Offer?

Is the financial advisor you are interviewing strictly in the business of providing financial advice, or does she also have other business interests? A financial advisor who specializes in financial advising will be more likely to stay on top of industry changes and emerging trends.

A financial advisor who also offers other products or services — like accounting services, insurance sales and service, property management, and others — will probably not offer the same level of service as someone who specializes.

What Kind of Clients Do You Work With?

Some financial advisors specialize in working with clients with a certain net worth, while others will work with anyone. To determine whether an individual is a good fit for you, just ask: What kind of clients to you work with?

This question can open up an important dialogue to help you determine if both you and a potential financial advisor are a good fit for each other. In addition to quickly determining whether the advisor will work with you based on your net worth, you will also be able to know if the individual is a good communicator and is able to explain complicated investment topics and terms in a way that is easy to understand.

How Do You Charge?

This question really isn’t about determining how much money you will have to spend — although it is useful for that purpose. This question will help you determine whether a financial advisor is really looking out for your best interests or is just interested in selling a particular service to get a lucrative commission.

A financial advisor who is truly looking out for your financial future will only recommend investments that are in your best interest. If an advisor makes money primarily from the sale of certain investments, this is a red flag that indicates that person may not make the best recommendations for your particular needs.

How Much Do You Charge?

You definitely want to make sure you find a financial advisor you can afford. The idea, after all, is to utilize a professional to grow your wealth, not make you poor.

Any reputable financial advisor should be perfectly fine with providing a list of fees. These fees may include a combination of hourly fees, flat fees, or commissions.

Could I Take a Look at a Sample Financial Plan?

Any reputable financial advisor will be proud of his or her work and will not have any problems showing you a sample financial plan. Just as you would never hire a graphic artist without viewing his portfolio to see if he’s any good, it also makes sense to review a sample plan from a financial advisor you are thinking about hiring to make sure that person has the right stuff.

When you review a sample plan, make a point of noticing whether it is easy to read and understand and is not be filled with unnecessary jargon. You should not have any trouble understanding the plan and how it will grow your money.

What is Your Approach to Investing?

What degree of risk is acceptable to you? How aggressive do you want your financial advisor to be? Do you want someone who will play it safe with your money and go after small wins, or do you want someone who isn’t afraid of taking on a little risk for higher returns?

Not all financial advisors have the exact same approach or philosophy to investing. In addition to assessing whether you are dealing with someone who is risk averse or aggressive, you also want to determine whether the individual prefers passive investments or is actively engaged in managing client accounts.

Will I Be Working Exclusively With You or With a Team?

Some financial advisors handle client accounts themselves, while others work as members of a larger team. Both approaches are acceptable, and neither is considered better or worse than the other. There are both pros and cons to consider with each.

A potential downside of working with a team is the fact that there may be some confusion as to who you need to contact when inquiring about your account. Will there be a designated contact, or will you have to talk to whoever is available? A designated contact will most likely be more familiar with your investment portfolio than a team of people who work with many different accounts.

Why Should I Work With You?

This is a question you should save for the end of your interview. It’s an open-ended question that could reveal some things you may not have thought of — both good and bad.

A competent financial advisor should answer this by pointing to his or her proven track record over the years of increasing the overall value of client accounts.

An Investment in Your Future

Choosing the right financial advisor for your specific needs and goals is not something to take lightly. Take the time to interview several to find one who is a good fit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to previous clients to see if they are satisfied.

Your financial advisor is an important partner in your financial future. If you do your homework to ensure you find a really good one, your retirement years can truly be golden.