How to Pick the Right Financial Advisor
No matter your age, choosing the right financial advisor is a critical life decision that too often is either ignored completely, or considered decades later than it should.
Trust me, I should know. Speaking as a member of the generation that dragged its feet as it approached adulthood and once lived by the maxim “never trust anyone over 30,” it’s clear many Boomers haven’t gotten the memo, fax, post-it, text message, or telegram regarding long-term financial planning. In fact, a recent Bankrate.com study bares this out: 36 percent of adults lack retirement savings and as many as 14 percent of adults 65 and over have put away nothing. And you can bet there’s a far larger unreported number of Boomers who have saved, yes, but not nearly enough to take into account the many decades they are likely to live.
OK. So maybe as a generation, us Boomers took too much of the proverbial “brown acid” and ignored the frugal lessons of our parents, children born into the Great Depression. But in a generational echo, the Great Recession and its current aftermath might foster an important proving ground as Baby Boomers try to educate their children on how to properly plan – and save – for the future. The first “small step” begins with choosing the right financial planner.
- Determine what the money is for: Before you walk into the office of a prospective financial advisor, ask yourself about your future plans for the money. If you’re a Boomer, like me, you’re probably thinking about how you’ll spend your retirement? I like the idea of spending my retirement years near my kids and grandkids, but I totally understand the snowbirds, who would rather spend their winter in Fort Lauderdale or Tucson. You’ll likely need to figure out what this all could cost and there are plenty of online calculators and planning tools available, such as CoRI™ from BlackRock.
- Get to know your financial self: Are you the type of person looking for high risk/high reward assets? Or are you more conservative, happy to invest your money in safer bonds and stocks that over time prove immune to major economic upswings and downswings? Your financial planner should reflect those attitudes.
- You’re a client, not a customer: Your financial advisor is a salesman; however, they shouldn’t high-pressure you into a decision you’re not comfortable with. You want them to be consultative and offer advice, but we understand that the reality is they sell investments. Ask friends and family for their advice and be wary of financial advisors who have had long careers elsewhere and are just starting out. I like to call this the ‘cold sweat test.’ If your financial advisors’ decisions keep you up at night, it’s time to go elsewhere. Likewise, if the advisor starts to sell you on a product before they ask what the money will eventually be used for... leave.
- The best things in life are (not) free: That was the running joke in the Beatles song “Money,” but it’s also a fact of life. Financial advisors advertise their services via several fee structures. Some are fee based where the client pays a monthly retainer. Others work off commission. But many of those advisors use language that suggests their services are “free.” For most clients monthly fees are the preferred payment structure. Commission-based structures incentivize greater risks taken by the advisor with your money.
- Verify credentials and ensure goals align: Verifying credentials means you are dealing with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). Doing so means they are required to adhere to CRP Board standards. But it’s more than that. Ultimately, whomever you choose should demonstrate a genuine interest in your long-term financial goals. Often that means selecting a professional who’s in a similar stage of life as you. Granted, meeting such criteria could be difficult for the immediate college graduate. But for the majority of people who are ready to begin a conversation with a financial planner, the rule applies.
- Comfort is key: Credentials are important, but comfort is even more crucial to a successful relationship with your financial advisor. When I work with financial advisors, I often tell them that, if they aren’t invited to all the family parties, graduations, and weddings, they’re probably not a trusted member of the family and not doing their job. Choose a financial advisor the way you select a doctor, lawyer, and even hairdresser; seek out recommendations from trusted family members and friends.
Considering that even with our collective shortfalls Baby Boomers are still on the verge of transferring the single largest sum of wealth to another generation (estimates run as high as $59 trillion) it’s essential we help our children appreciate the value of financial planning for their own children, the first of whom are already entering elementary school. Just think, $50,000 invested now, assuming a 6% yearly compounded interest rate amounts to roughly $2 million by the time they turn 65. (Inflation and consumer price index notwithstanding.)
It’s true. The children of the Sixties have all grown up. But in the brief window we have left running the world, let's teach our children well (yes – that was a nod to Simon and Garfunkel), so that they don’t make the same mistakes we made. A properly vetted financial advisor ensures that the true “Golden Years” that lie ahead for all age groups yield some hard earned – and invested – gold.