When it comes to managing your money, how do you decide where to turn for advice?
Your decision to hire a financial professional can help you pursue your objectives more quickly and efficiently. But the relationship only works when you choose a financial professional with the experience and philosophy that fits with your goals.
So how do you choose the best financial professional for you? While referrals from friends and relatives are a good place to start, that’s only part of the process. Here are 10 important questions to ask a financial professional.
10 Questions to Ask a Financial Professional in Your First Meeting
1. How are you paid for the services you provide?
Like other professionals, a financial professional gets paid for what they do, and it’s important to understand how they are compensated. Some financial professionals charge fixed or hourly fees while others charge a percentage based on the total assets under management, or they earn commissions whenever they buy or sell investment products on your behalf. All are acceptable forms of fees, but knowing how someone is paid helps you better understand the types of services they provide.
2. What are your qualifications and professional experience, and how will they benefit me?
While specific requirements vary, financial professionals must have securities licenses to sell investment products. In addition, financial professionals can earn different types of professional designations, including those as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP), and others. You can learn more about the background of a particular financial professional on BrokerCheck, available on the FINRA website.
While a financial professional should be rightfully proud of the designations he or she has earned, these qualifications are more meaningful if they benefit you. Plus, if a financial professional had previous experience as a small business owner, a tax accountant, an attorney, or real estate broker, it gives them professional experience that could add an extra layer of understanding about you and your situation. Learn about your financial professional’s background and ask them how their experience can be put to work for you.
3. What services do you provide?
Make sure the financial professional can provide what you need. Do you need advice on retirement planning or charitable giving? Wondering what to do with an inheritance? How to set up a Roth IRA? Financial professionals with Global Retirement and Investment Services offer retirement planning and investment services including IRA and 401(k) rollover services, insurance, inheritance, and charitable giving advice.
4. What types of clients do you work with?
Financial professionals often end up with clients who have similar needs—young professionals versus those nearing retirement, people working for large tech or aerospace companies versus small business owners, new investors versus high-net-worth individuals, etc. While it’s not a requirement, you may benefit from working with someone who is familiar with the needs of someone like you.
5. What is your investment philosophy?
It’s important to understand how your financial professional feels about investing overall. When they talk about risk, do you feel assured or nervous? Will they use asset allocation to drive your investment choices? Do they ask detailed questions about you and your goals, or do they have a set, standard approach? Look for someone who has a philosophy that matches yours.
6. How will you measure and track the performance of my investments?
A good financial professional will keep you informed on where you stand against both your short- and long-term goals. The key is to track performance against your goals. If your goal is retirement, tracking may look different than if your goal is college savings for your child. Also ask if the financial professional can take a big-picture view of all your finances, not just the investments under their management. Find out how things will be measured—against a standard market benchmark, such as the S&P 500, or another way.
7. How will you communicate with me? How often will we meet? Do you have a team that will support me when you’re not available?
Everyone is different in terms of how they want to connect with their financial professional, so make sure your expectations match what the financial professional offers. Do you want 24/7 access or monthly statements? Quarterly calls or annual meetings? Also, ask how you can get questions answered throughout the year. You may need more support at year end or during tax time, so make sure your financial professional has a team who can respond when you need something.
8. What tools and resources will you be able to provide me?
Many financial professionals provide access to online tools that allow you to plug and play with performance forecasting using various market scenarios, to see how you’re doing against goals. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with data, so make sure the tools and resources are usable and understandable to you.
9. How do you measure client success?
Success can look very different to different people. Ask the financial professional how he or she will measure their performance and make sure you know how that translates to you. If a financial professional only talks about their ability to ‘beat the market,’ they may not be the best fit. There are many benchmarks available, but make sure the one they use is suited to you.
10. Why should I choose you as my financial professional?
Here’s where you get the chance to see if the financial professional has really been listening. If they rattle off a list of qualifications or philosophies that don’t apply to you, they may not be a good fit. But if they can explain how their background and approach fit with you and your goals, you may have found a good match.
Questions to Ask During Your Regular Check-ins
Once you’ve settled in with the right financial professional, here are 6 things you might want to cover when you have your regular check-in meetings:
- How has the way in which my life has changed (child born or off to college, upcoming retirement date, etc.) impacted my investment plan?
- How are my investments doing against my goals?
- Do I need to adjust my savings rate, asset allocation, or investment strategy?
- What should I change, remove, or add? (underperforming assets, umbrella insurance, college savings account, etc.)
- Are there tax implications I should be aware of?
- What happens next?