Finding the Right Financial Advisor

Finding a good financial adviser is a little like deciding on a marriage partner. It involves evaluating a variety of elements — experience, standards, goals and philosophy — and determining how well your particular styles mesh. Here are a few tips and questions you should ask before you say, "I do," with a financial adviser.


What Motivates Them?

One of the most important qualities to look for in future advisers is that they have your financial interests at heart. Every financial professional has to live up to some standard of ethics, either "fiduciary" or "suitability." Fiduciary means they are legally obligated to put your interests first before their own. While those held to the suitability standard are only required to ensure an investment is suitable for you at the time of the investment.  

Financial professionals called registered investment advisers (RIA), investment adviser representatives (IAR) and certified financial planners (CFP) all follow fiduciary-level standards. Other types of advisers that share this same legal responsibility are: chartered retirement planning counselors (CRPC) and accredited investment fiduciaries (AIF). All other broker dealers, insurance salespersons or any other financial representatives operate under the suitability standard.


Ask About Their Fee Structure

Financial advisers should tell you up front what they charge for their services. If they don't, ask directly. Some advisers charge set fees, some earn fees based on a percentage of your assets and others earn commissions based product sales.

If they are working on commission, make sure to watch for any conflicts of interest. Will their desire to profit more trump their objectivity? Will they select products that offer bigger commissions for them rather than better investments for you? Do they receive any perks or bonuses based on products they suggest to you?


Shop Around

When searching for the right adviser, think of it as a partnership rather than a one-sided relationship. They should be helping you identify financial goals and that means looking at the big picture. A financial adviser should ask about all aspects of your life, from your health to any debts and dependents, as well as your overall goals.

For some, that means management of assets, but for others just starting out, that means managing debt or building savings. Good financial planning involves looking at a client's individual circumstances, not just punching in numbers. When it's your turn to ask questions, find out what type of adviser they are and ask about their training, work experience and education to get a better sense of what their credentials are and who awarded them.


Consider Their Background

It's important to confirm an adviser's credibility, especially when dealing with money. Ask for client references and contact them for an honest assessment of the adviser's character and investment advice. 

Also ask what type of clients they counsel. If they specialize in only big portfolios and you're just starting to build your wealth, than they might not be a good fit for you. If you're really on the fence, consider going one step further and visit the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website, which lists fees and services and also any disciplinary actions taken against advisers.


Evaluate What They Can Offer

Financial advisers not only differ in the advice they give, but also how they work with you. First determine if you'll be dealing with them directly or their team of assistants. Find out how often you might hear from them and what makes their client experience unique. These questions will give you a clearer impression of how you will benefit from working them, and why you should want to.