Interviewing a Financial Advisory Firm
While talking to a prospective advisor, the last thing you want is a “sales pitch.” You need to know:
- Who these people are,
- What they do, and…
- How they do it
Then you can determine if they are qualified to do what you need done.
For a lifetime relationship with a financial advisor, you will want to consider some or all the following points:
- Integrity - Obviously, you want an advisor with integrity, but you can’t discern that based on simply how you “feel” in the interview. The bad guys may be the best at generating that feeling. To gauge integrity:
- Find a firm that has been doing what they do a long time
- Obtain a list of long-term clients, contact them, and ask them to tell you about their experience with the advisor or the firm.
- If they suggest that their investment portfolio consistently outperforms everyone else, they failed the integrity test; no one knows how to do that!
- Services Provided – Request a list of services provided. If you only want someone to manage your investment portfolio, there need only be one thing on the list. However, if you are looking for someone to create a financial, tax, and estate plan, that’s another. (See 5 Competence, below). Though far from all-inclusive, here is a list of items you may want to see on the list of services provided:
- Asset Allocation
- Investment Management
- Tax Planning
- Retirement Income Planning
- Existing Life Insurance Portfolio Analysis
- Existing Liability Insurance Portfolio Analysis (Homeowners and Auto Insurance)
- Estate Planning
- Probate Avoidance
- Unintended Heirs Prevention
- Protecting heirs from:
- Their own missteps, and
- Outside influences
- Debt Reduction Strategies
- Intra-Family Planning Strategies
- College Planning
- Surviving Spouse Assistance
- Family Estate Plan Review (with your heirs)
- Estate Transfer Services (for assets which don’t require probate)
- Process – Ask to see in print the formal steps the advisor takes as to data gathering, analysis, plan design, etc.
- Data Required – Request a pre-printed list of the information the advisor will need from you to provide you objective relevant feedback. If all that is needed is your “current statements”, the focus is likely to be solely on financial products the advisor sells. If they print something up for you on the spot, it isn’t their standard protocol. To create an appropriate financial plan for you, an advisor would need two things:
- A stand-alone discussion of your objectives with a process for formalizing them, and…
- Every document you possess related to your current financial situation. There are too many of these to list here – ask the advisor if you may see a list of what their firm requires.
- Competence - “Giving a young advisor a chance” can be costly. Only engage a young advisor who works with an experienced advisor. Ask for a printed statement of both advisors’ credentials. Note that an advisor may have passed the tests to become a Certified Financial Planning Practitioner™ (CFP™), but still just sell financial products. On the other hand, an advisor could do comprehensive financial, tax, & estate planning, but not hold the CFP® Request the advisor to discuss the various elements of their financial planning process and ask to see some of the documents that are necessary “tools of the trade” when engaging in providing these services.
- Their Requirements for Taking New Clients – An advisor who takes anyone and everyone may be too “hungry.” It may be difficult for a “hungry” advisor to be objective with recommendations. Determine if their firm has specific criteria (printed) for taking new clients.
- Ask if the firm provides “recommendations” or unveils “options.” (“Recommendation” is the financial industry’s terminology for “sales pitch”). Your first option should always be to “leave everything exactly as it is.” You want someone who will determine and reveal potential pitfalls of doing so but leave that decision to you.
- Determine if the advisor has had specialized training relating to the IRS Code as it relates to distribution strategies for tax-qualified plans (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457 Plans, etc.)
- Follow Up – Ask for the firm’s protocol as to ongoing interaction, monitoring, plan reviews, etc.
- Ask if the advisor has been recognized by the financial industry as an expert on a given topic. Have they received inquiry for opinion on financial matters relevant to consumers? Have they been quoted by members of the financial media?
It is likely that you won’t make any decisions at this meeting. You are gathering information that you will use to compare this advisor and this advisory firm with others you may interview. However, even if you interview only one firm or one advisor, the above checklist will assist you in evaluating the potential value a given advisor or advisory firm is likely to bring to you and to your family.
It is important that, when interviewing an advisor, you don’t give him/her the answers with your questions. Ask, “What services do you provide?” Don’t ask, “Do you provide tax-planning or retirement income planning?” Don’t ask, “Do you design your clients’ estate plan or provide custom beneficiary designation documents?” If an advisor says, “We do financial planning,” your response might be, “That is somewhat of a generic concept; exactly what does that entail?”
You will leave a financial advisor or advisory firm interview more informed if you focus on specifics and not settle for generalities.