Of the many important questions you should ask when looking for a financial adviser, perhaps none matters more than this basic query: what do you mean by “financial adviser”?
You want to know if your potential adviser is a fiduciary, acting in your best interest, or if they're beholden to a product they’re trying to sell to you.
Sean Condon, wealth adviser at Windgate Wealth Management, puts it simply: “Beware conflicts of interest.”
The right fiduciary adviser is someone who will aim to improve not just your money, but your life.
Want to find the right person? Here are the four questions Condon said everyone should ask before partnering up with a planner.
Are you a Certified Financial Planner?
An easy way to find the right candidate is to look for the right credentials. You want to hire a Certified Financial Planner, or CFP — someone who has been certified through the nonprofit CFP Board.
“It means they’ve met a professional standard of coursework, experience and ethics,” said Condon, a CFP himself. “Essentially, it’s the gold standard of the planning industry.”
Be careful: a person does not have to be a CFP to call themselves an “investment adviser.”
How are you compensated?
Don’t be shy about asking a potential adviser how they are compensated. Do they earn a commission on the investment products being sold to you? Or are they a fiduciary working 100 percent in your interest — for example, by charging a fee for advice linked to some measurement of your success?
“When you understand someone’s financial motivation,” Condon said, “it puts their advice in proper context.”
What should I expect at our first meeting?
“In a first conversation, the client should be the one doing all the talking,” Condon said.
A good financial adviser will get to know you. They will listen to you. They will learn your situation and needs. The tipoff that a potential adviser is not doing this? They try to sell you something first.
“Imagine if a doctor gave you a prescription without taking time to diagnose you,” Condon said. You’d probably leave that doctor and not return. Condon said we should treat our financial health the same way.
How will working together impact my life?
Once an adviser gets to know you, they can provide what Condon identified as three core benefits:
Help you discover your financial goals
Remind you of your goals
Get between you and bad decisions
In particular, if you work at a startup, even a small disruption might put you out of a job. That could be devastating if you don’t have savings.
A good adviser will help you lay out and follow a clear plan, which will put you on a clear path to personal, professional and financial independence.
“Being a good planner is all about doing what it takes to make the client successful,” Condon said.
Image via Shutterstock.