Clients should interview potential financial planners exceptionally critically. Similar to choosing a doctor to entrust with your physical health, with financial planners, you are choosing who you should entrust with your financial health. Your questions to potential financial planners should revolve around three core principles: duty, safeguards, and professionalism. If the financial planner ticks the boxes for all three of these core principles, it is worth continuing the conversation with him or her. Spoiler alert: It may be harder than you think to find someone fully qualified with these credentials.
AdvicePeriod co-founder and principal, Steve Lockshin, wrote a book called Get Wise To Your Advisor, in which the answers to the questions below are identified when searching for a true fiduciary in your financial planner.
Ask potential financial planners to answer the following five questions when trying to determine whether your (the client’s) interests truly come first. Period.
Describe your firm’s typical client.
- Does your firm have a unique expertise or a specific focus on certain types of clients (e.g., retirees, doctors, small business owners)? If you had to identify one type of client that is the largest percentage of your firm’s client base, who would it be?
Describe your firm’s service profile.
- Describe the typical service your client expects and what your firm delivers as standard practice. How often do clients get to speak with an advisor and what is the advisor’s level of experience?
Please provide a list of all the licenses you carry.
How do you ensure that your firm remains in compliance with legal and regulatory statutes?
How does your firm get paid?
Cybersecurity is more important than ever in today’s world. Getting answers to the questions below should help you feel confident your assets are safe and in good hands.
What safeguards does your firm have in place to ensure that clients’ assets are protected from fraud?
- Where would a client’s assets be custodied?
- Does your firm use any structures where it is deemed to have custody (e.g., limited liability companies or hedge funds) and where it is the manager?
- Does your firm require that any investment that is not held by an independent custodian (such as partnerships, hedge funds, or LLCs) utilize a well-known accounting firm to conduct audits of these investments?
This goes without saying, but there are a certain set of professional standards in the industry by which your financial planner should abide. These questions will help you determine if your financial planner upholds these standards.
What does your firm do to plan for the future?
- What happens to a client’s relationship if their advisor dies, is disabled, or retires? Who services a client’s account besides the advisor?
Please provide a list of your credentials and background (other than the licenses previously described).
- How long have you been a financial advisor? What was your formal training?
Explain your firm’s investment process.
- Do you provide clients with an investment policy statement? How often is it reviewed? Does it identify appropriate benchmarks for each investment so clients can analyze your firm’s manager selection success?
- Does your firm’s performance report show a client’s returns, net of all fees? Does it illustrate each investment against an appropriate benchmark?
Check out the formal Get Wise to Your Advisor checklist which goes through the above questions and many more. The answers to these questions are imperative to helping you identify financial planning fiduciaries in an industry riddled with conflict. You may want to weigh these questions in order of importance to you, and then compare apples to apples once all potential planner responses are gathered. Choose wisely!