If you are like me, you did not grow up in a family that had attorneys, accountants, and brokers on call.  This is because we were squarely middle class, my parents were not self-employed, and any savings done was done through a retirement plan at work.  In short, there was just no need for a cadre of advisors.  Growing up with that paradigm can lead one to believe that there is no need to hire outside help because the default is to handle everything on your own.

Fast forward a few decades and I now find myself steeped in the professional services world.  I have been providing financial and investment advice long enough to have heard and seen my share of horror stories related to do-it-yourself planning gone bad.  Most recently, it was a do-it-yourself estate plan that consisted of a Will that was not properly executed and witnessed which led to unnecessary legal fees and delays.  Other times it has been crummy investments, unnecessary insurances, improper account titling, or overlooked tax saving opportunities to name a few.

Suffice it to say, I have become a big believer in the proverb that says there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.  In other words, no one knows everything, so it is smart to recognize that and get help – especially when dealing with a subject that is taboo in many families and is not taught in school.  I think sometimes it can also be downright intimidating to know help is needed, and yet not really know what to ask for.  So, here is a list of questions that will put any prospective advisor on notice that you are not a lemming and have done your homework.  For the record, this is the list of questions I would give to my wife if she were a widow and shopping for a financial advisor.

  • Are you a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner?
  • Are you and your firm Fiduciaries?
  • Will you work with me for a fee alone? In other words, will you do your work without the potential conflict of insurance or investment commissions?
  • Do you have at least 10 years of experience directly providing advice to clients?
  • Do you advise on more than just investments?
  • Do you have a succession plan in the event something happens to you? What is it?

A “no” answer to any of the above questions would be a showstopper for me.  This list is the minimum threshold for a professional who I would want to care for my family.  Of course, there are many other things that should also be considered in hiring a financial professional.  Things like:

  • Are you a resource for various financial things beyond investments and insurance? Things like budgeting & cash-flow, income taxes, estate planning, retirement income planning, charitable giving, and how to turn savings into an income I will not outlive?
  • Do you have disciplinary events on your record?
  • How do I pay you for your services?
  • Do you speak in a way that I can understand?
  • Am I comfortable interacting with you?
  • Do you have a disciplined investment process that your firm adheres to? If so, what?  And be sure you understand what is being said.  If not, run away and do not look back.

In short, I would tell my wife to choose an advisor that she can have a relationship with and who has the mind of a capitalist and the heart of a social worker.  You don’t want a salesperson who sees you as another number but rather a trusted advisor who you can count on to be objective and use their knowledge to collaborate with you to reach the best decisions for your goals and objectives.

While this list is not exhaustive, it is a good place to start.  If you have made it this far you are way ahead of the pack and presumably recognize the need to have a trusted advisor.  When you find the right one, you’ll be glad you did!


By Chris Toadvine, MS, CFP®

Certified Financial Group



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