How to Choose a Financial Planner
Do you have a vision for your future life?
Do you dream of a better life than the one you are currently living?
If so, then you have to take action. As great as dreams are, they are nothing unless accompanied by action.
If you know this, you may have started the work in one way or another.
Yet there is one way you may need to consider in case you haven’t.
That is engaging the services of a financial planner.
Financial planners are experts who can help you achieve your financial goals more easily than you could by yourself.
Yes, it is your money and you probably know best what to do with it.
But just take a step back and check again.
Do you really know best what to do with your money?
Of course you can spend it the way you want; you can buy the trendiest clothes, never eat dinner at home but in hotels, buy a luxury car etc.
There is so much you can do. In any case, it is your money.
But if you are wiser than that, you understand that living for the present is not a very good idea.
In the long run, it will prove to be a costly mistake.
To avoid this, you have to ask yourself some questions. What kind of a life do you want to live in the next 10 years? What about 20 years from now? What kind of school do you want your kids to go to? How can you be best prepared for emergencies?
These questions and others like them will help you realize that you have to set measures in place for a better future.
And what better way than to invest for it?
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” John F. Kennedy
And this is exactly where financial planners come in.
It is important to note that financial planners are not necessarily stock brokers, investment managers or a consultant in such fields.
Although a financial planner can do all these things, his primary interest is in helping individuals plan for their future.
This usually involves you explaining to him your goals and letting him in on your financial status.
Depending on your agreement, he may give you a one-off solution or you may have a long-term working relationship. It largely depends on your needs.
If working with him for an extended period of time, he might follow up on you at different intervals.
He will be seeking to check and confirm that you are abiding by what you agreed to do.
This becomes a boost for you if you are struggling to adopt a new habit.
To get the best financial planner, first of all realize that there are two types of planners.
Robo-Advisors vs Human Advisors
Robo-advisors can easily be recognized as a term connected to robots.
That is true and it is exactly what they are. Though you will not meet human-like robots said to be financial planners, they are increasingly becoming more common.
Robo-advisors are software programs which help you with your financial planning needs. They operate by getting information from you.
With this information, they use some algorithms to create a plan for you.
Advantages of Robo-advisors
Robo-advisors have certain advantages which you can enjoy. Here are a few:
1. They are cheap – robo-advisors offer good services at lower costs compared to human advisors. This might however be as a result of the simple accounts they are intended to handle.
Rarely will these advisors handle accounts with huge sums of money. They will also not be best if you have a more complicated situation e.g. you want help managing your estate.
2. They are becoming mainstream – many financial planning organizations are making an effort to launch their own robo-advisors. They offer financial plans and advice fast and affordably.
Moreover, they often have a means by which you can contact a human advisor. This is for those times when you feel like you need an alternative advice.
3. They are quick to use – these advisors are not difficult to use. They are operated from an online portal and so you just have to create an account and start talking to the robot behind the scenes. You can interact with some here.
Human advisors on the other hand are real humans. They do advice you just like the machines do although differently. They will spend time with you to understand your situation then guide you appropriately.
Also, they are more flexible and the face-to-face conversation can be helpful.
This is especially the case if you have questions.
Unless what you are looking for is some simple advice on finances, you should always go with a human planner.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE DECIDING ON A FINANCIAL PLANNER
And now to what really matters.
You have decided to work with a human being as opposed to a software program.
It is time to choose the right one. How do you do that?
You just have to get an answer to each of these questions.
If both your mind and gut feeling are okay with him, then he is the one. Work with him.
1. Is he certified?
The first thing to check with anyone claiming to be a financial planner is certification. Keep in mind that certification is very different from qualification.
He may have gone to school, gotten his degrees and any other document showing that he is knowledgeable.
But theoretic knowledge is not what you are looking for here.
Certification comes from specific organizations which have a mandate to enforce certain rules. In the context of financial planning, there is one body which stands tall in this work. It is called the CFP Board. CFP stands for Certified Financial Planner.
Any financial planner who is not certified by CFP should not be on your list of preferred planners.
One of the biggest things CFP ensures is that the planners operate in integrity.
Any financial planner who is not working with integrity risks disciplinary action.
2. Is he talking your language?
The financial industry, like any other industry, has its own jargon.
Professionals, experts and would-be experts all use certain terms to discuss subjects which pertain to the industry.
Generally, this is fine, as long as the discussion is between people who work in the industry.
But what happens when an outsider joins the discussion?
You are an outsider, but engaging in talks with an insider.
The question you should ask yourself here is, do you understand what he is saying?
If you have to ask him to explain a term he used, then you are allowed to question whether he is the right person.
If you ask him for an explanation twice, start being concerned. If thrice, then be afraid.
Very afraid and just run. Not for your life but your money.
That is evidence enough that he is not able to connect with you at your level.
The best planner to work with is one who can explain everything to you in simple language.
He should be able to break down investment concepts to simple ideas so that you can understand what he is saying.
If this is not happening, you can be sure that your relationship with him will not be a good one. Communication is always at the core of every relationship.
And for communication to take place, there must be understanding. If you don’t understand what he is saying, how will you know what he is doing with your money?
3. How much will he cost you?
The cost of his services is most likely one of the things you have in mind. It is indeed important to consider it.
However, you need to understand that this is a consultation you will be making. As such, there are several ways you could be charged.
a. Commission – some planners charge you a percentage of the value of your investment. Investment in this case is simply what you are giving them to handle for you. This is usually your total asset value deposited with him.
If you want him to manage your estate and any income-generating activity involved, then the cost will be a percentage of the total value. In most cases, this percentage is 1%. This is not a fixed charge as it can change depending on your unique situation but rarely will it go down.
b. Flat Rate – those who charge a flat rate will normally calculate it after considering the amount of work involved. The more complicated your situation is, the higher the cost. This could seem expensive especially if you are to pay upfront but can also prove to be a relief later on.
c. Hourly Rate – this type of charge is best if you are just seeking some advice on the best thing to do. You may want to do things by yourself but prefer some occasional advice. If this is you, then this can be a good option.
Nevertheless, if you make many visits to the planner, you might end up paying more. There is also a downside to this arrangement. Since you have not completely committed to the planner, he may not give you as much information as needed.
This may not necessarily be an integrity issue. It may simply be caused by the nature of the working relationship. Hourly charges are reserved for consultation type meetings. As such, you will often be getting answers to the questions you have.
d. Retainer-based charge – this is for the situations which require a mid to long-term working relationship. In this case, there is a fixed amount of money payable to the planner every set period of time as per your agreement.
This keeps him totally committed to you but isn’t to mean he cannot handle another client’s account.
As long as you are having long-term plans and prefer to have someone walk with you all the way, this is a great option. Your planner would always be available to answer any question you have. If you two connect well, this could be a good friendship.
4. Does he have a code of ethics?
A code of ethics is what guides a person on the kind of conduct he should have.
It stipulates the Dos and Don’ts.
Anyone with a code of ethics which he abides by, is likely to be a better person to work with.
This is because they have subjected themselves to the authority of some rules.
They have basically sworn to work by those rules.
If the planner you are considering has a code of ethics, he should be able to show you a copy of it.
If he doesn’t offer to show it, just ask him.
He should not be hesitant about it unless he is afraid of being held accountable.
There are at least two things you should check for in that code of ethics.
a. Fiduciary – fiduciary is a term used to refer to trust. It’s meaning is actually to show or provide trust or simply to be trustworthy. In other words, the planner abiding to this will be one who acts in integrity.
This is important because of two things. First, he will not be lying to you about what he does. He will be open and transparent. The second thing is equally important. He will act in your best interest.
This is the biggest “part” of fiduciary. This is important because some planners earn a commission from the product they advice you to buy.
For example, they may advice you to buy a particular investment product. Whereas it may be good for you, they may not tell you that they are getting a commission out of the transaction.
The question which arises is this, could he ask you to invest in something simply because he will get a higher pay out of it? If he swears by fiduciary, he won’t.
b. Sustainability standards – these are voluntary standards and values which different people subscribe to.
They are generally good for the situation at hand but not necessarily the best for that particular situation. Basically, it’s a case of someone being good while he can be better.
As such, although these are good to have, they are not what you should be going for.
If for some reason you are unable to have a certified planner abiding by fiduciary, you can go with the one sticking to sustainability standards.
In practice, these standards will mandate the planner to advance his skills so as to be in tune with the changes in the industry.
He will also be updated on the best practices so as to benefit his clients. But all in all, fiduciary is what you should be looking for.
5. What is his investment philosophy?
A philosophy is a way of thinking or operating.
You can look at it as a guide. In the context of financial planning, an investment philosophy is the guideline of making investments.
Considering that investments are at times not guaranteed to bring the exact returns you expected, it is wise to find out how your planner approaches those opportunities.
Of significance here is the risk factor. And the question is simple. Is he aggressive or too risk averse?
This is what will guide him in the investment decisions he makes.
If he is too aggressive, then he might make risky investments.
Although these normally hold the potential for the highest returns, they also carry a potential of loss. Much expertise is needed for these.
On the other hand, he may be too risk averse, meaning he is afraid of the risks involved in investments.
In that case, he may postpone making a move as he waits for an assurance of the returns and ultimately lose out on opportunities.
You want a planner who is balanced. One who has an eye for the relatively stable investments but who can also pick up a great opportunity.
Still, just as he has to speak your language, you have to be in agreement with him on this.
If you are the kind of person who takes opportunities aggressively, then you might want one who operates like you. If you are more of the “wait and see” type, then go with the risk averse type.
Alternatively, agree with him that he should confirm with you whenever he is not sure.
6. What type of clients does he have?
The type of clients a planner has will tell you a lot about them. If he works with the wealthy, then you know where he stands and what kind of services he is inclined to offer.
The same applies to the one working with people of average wealth.
This helps you know the cost of working with him and also how well he might treat you.
For example, if he works with the wealthy and you are not, he may not value your account.
He may prioritize the wealthy clients and handle you after he is done with them.
This will not be an ideal situation for you because he may not even have time to talk with you as often as you may want.
You may be in need of some advice yet he is handling a priority account because of the money it brings him.
At the same time, if you are wealthy and settle for a planner who handles less wealthy clients, he may not be able to serve you adequately.
A lot of wealth brings a degree of complexity to the account and he might not have the experience for it.
This will make his services not the best for your interests.
7. Does he have a criminal background?
One very important checkbox to tick is that of the background check.
Whether the planner is experienced, talks your language, has clients in the same social class as you or not, his background matters. It matters a lot.
Do not ignore this vetting process for whatever reason.
Lack of time? Unless your money is not important to you.
Lack of resources? You actually need very little resources to carry out a background check.
Much of what you need is time and rarely any money unless you want someone to do it for you. You don’t know where to check? We have you covered on that.
The first place you should check is the CFP Board. CFP maintains a record of all the members against whom disciplinary actions have been taken.
You can easily check out the planner by his last name and state. If he is clean, that’s good. If not, you have a good reason to keep checking.
Although a previously-disciplined planner may have changed for the better, one with no disciplinary record at all is best.
It means he has been very keen to do what is best for both client and industry.
If you however decide to go with one who was previously disciplined, it’s still fine. Just make sure your gut feeling is on your side.
8. What does his previous work say about him?
Every professional or company has some testimonials.
These can also be seen on most websites. But since you are in a face-to-face conversation with him, ask him to show you some of his work.
This will most likely be in the form of progress reports and graphs of clients’ success.
These success stories can help you decide how good the planner is. Everyone should be able to show the results of the work they do.
As a test for privacy, check whether the on-screen or printed document will have the name of the client.
The planner should be careful enough to either remove the name of the client or hide it in some way.
The privacy of client data is of utmost important.
Can you imagine someone showing up to consult the planner and being shown how well your profile is performing?
How with the help of the planner, you moved from $500,000 to $800,000 in six months?
9. What does the contract’s fine print say?
After going through all these and settling for him, there is one last thing to check: the fine print. Do not be quick to sign the contract.
In fact, ask him for the contract form so you can read it for yourself instead of asking him the terms and conditions.
The last thing you want is to be surprised because you were not aware of an action which has been taken.
If the terms are many such that it may take you time to read them, ask to take the form home.
If they are few, just go through them while with him.
Anything which is not very clear should be explained. Ensure you have all the information you need and are comfortable to work with him.
If you have followed all the above steps, then you should end up with someone who is true to you. He should be comfortable giving you the information you ask for and even explaining further to make you comfortable as well.
In the fine print, check for clauses touching on terminating the agreement, payment mode, penalties, who has the final word in a discussion etc.
Anything you feel is worth getting clarity on, ask about it. If need be, have a notebook and take notes so as to remember what he said.
Remember that a financial planner is supposed to help you achieve your goals.
And for that to happen, you need to have the confidence that he is the right person.
Otherwise, even if you make good progress, you may not enjoy the journey, probably due to suspicions.
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