4 Powerful Questions To Ask a Financial Advisor Before You Hire
What is a financial advisor’s most valuable asset?
It’s not investments, taxes, saving strategies, and financial plans. It’s not their patented system or other methods. All of those things can be taught, learned, and achieved through certifications, degrees, and other resources.
A financial advisor’s most valuable asset is something much simpler than a tax plan yet much more difficult to find and nurture: trust.
Trust is the foundation of a strong financial practice. When you work with an advisor you trust, you know that your needs always come first. In addition, you have confidence that they care about you, your goals, dreams, and aspirations.
But how do you find an advisor you can trust?
Today, our team wanted to bring you an article that discusses 4 of the most important questions to ask a financial advisor before you hire.
Want a comprehensive list of questions to ask a financial advisor? Download our comprehensive list of questions here.
My goal is to help guide you toward working with someone who will treat you with respect, integrity, and honesty.
Here are four powerful questions to ask a financial advisor before you hire.
1. Are you a fiduciary?
As you search through advisor profiles, you have probably encountered this emphatic financial buzzword. "Fiduciary" is often plastered on advisor websites and marketing materials, but what does it mean and how do you know if an advisor adheres to that standard?
The fiduciary standard was created by the SEC and stipulates that advisors who uphold it are required by law to put the needs of their clients above their own. Built on a foundation of duty, loyalty, and care, this standard was designed to enhance the client experience and ensure advisors upheld the needs of the client first and foremost.
Another goal of the fiduciary standard is to limit or clearly express any conflicts of interest. A financial advisor who is a fiduciary needs to clearly state any conflicts of interest should they arise. This is important because conflicts of interest may limit an advisor’s ability to act in the client's best interest.
Sounds simple, right?
Yet once you dig into it, the fiduciary standard is anything but straightforward. This is because there isn’t a clear method for upholding and adhering to it.
It is important to know that not all advisors are fiduciaries and many are only partial fiduciaries.
Partial fiduciaries? Come again?
Many advisors market themselves as fiduciaries but often also serve in a dual capacity under a lesser standard of care called the suitability standard. The suitability standard was created for brokers and dealers and stipulates that their recommendations must be simply suitable for the client. In other words, advisors working under the suitability standard are only obligated to recommend products that are a solution for you, but may not be in your BEST interest.
Imagine if your son or daughter said they were getting married to someone who was simply “suitable” for them, but not necessarily best for them!
So how do you know if your advisor is a broker operating under the suitability standard or a pure fiduciary?
To find out, visit the Broker-Check website.
For example, when you search for my background, you’ll notice that I am a “Previously Registered Broker”.
However, now, I operate as an “Investment Advisor” which means that I am required by law to always put my client's interests first.
Alternatively, here is a search for a random Wells Fargo financial advisor from the Broker Check website:
In this example, the advisor is a Broker and does not operate under the fiduciary standard of care. This person also has compliance disclosures for past infractions!
Imagine going to a doctor and who recommends medication for your illness. Later, you find out that the doctor was paid by the pharmaceutical company to recommend that prescription. This would be a lapse of fiduciary duty. But brokers or non-fiduciary advisers do that all the time when they sell a product that is suitable for you, but not necessarily in your best interest.
What's the bottom line?
The fiduciary duty should be an integral part of your conversations with potential advisors.
Here are some follow-up questions you can ask an advisor before you hire to ensure that person is indeed a pure fiduciary:
Will you sign the fiduciary oath?
How do you uphold the fiduciary standard in your business?
Do you apply your fiduciary commitment to every part of your business? (investments, planning, etc.)
Are you a registered representative? If so, then they are a broker.
2. What is your fee structure?
Another reason financial planning can get murky is through advisor fees and compensation. There is a whole slew of ways advisors get paid and it is important that your advisor clearly articulates and illustrates their fees so you know exactly how it works.
Your financial advisor should be compensated. But how they are compensated can create conflicts of interest.
Let’s go over a few of the basics on how a financial advisor can be compensated.
Also known as a flat fee, this structure is a pre-arranged price for a given solution. For example, an advisor could say that the creation of a financial plan is $5,500.
This fee is relatively straightforward and stipulates that the advisor is paid at a certain hourly rate for the work they provide clients.
Assets under management (AUM)
A common investment fee, AUM is an annual fee levied as a percentage of the investments managed for a given client.
Advisors can receive commissions on common financial products like annuities, insurance, and more. Be sure you know if your advisor is receiving a commission on the products they recommend.
But advisors often use multiple fee structures based on the service provided.
For example, at Covenant Wealth Advisors, we have a range of fees depending on the type of work we do for our clients. We charge a fixed fee, hourly fees, or fees based on assets under management if we manage your investments.
But our team takes pride in the fact that we are a fee-only firm. This means that we never receive commissions and are only compensated directly from our clients. This reduces conflicts of interest and better aligns our interest with yours.
In a recent study by the CFA, 84% of responders said that full disclosure on fees and costs is a determining factor in developing a trusting relationship with advisors and yet only 48% felt that their advisor was holding up their end of the bargain.
It is important that your financial advisor clearly be able to discuss their fees so you don’t receive a surprise bill at the end of the month/quarter/year. It also helps you understand the type of service you receive for the fee you pay.
3. What is your investment philosophy?
Investments play an important role in your financial plan and you want to work with an advisor who uses methods you are comfortable with. The thing to watch out for here is that the advisor has a clear, evidence based strategy that can be clearly communicated.
They should be able to clearly articulate their investment philosophy, strategy, and principles using proven methodology. If this isn’t the case, they might be operating the investment side based on a hunch rather than academic research.
For example, our investment philosophy is as follows:
Don’t try to time the stock market
Invest for the long-term
Diversification is key
Keep costs low
Keep taxes low
Don't invest based upon media headlines
Here is a bit more detail on our core investment principles:
We are passionate about educating clients about our investment philosophy because we believe that when you understand how and why you are invested, your probability of success increases through improved discipline.
4. How will we work together?
Before you commit to an advisor, you should know their process for interacting and engaging with clients. This is a chance for you to learn more about their process, systems, communication style, and overall business operations. A few additional questions you can ask are:
What will be covered during our financial planning meetings?
How does the financial planning process work?
How often will we meet?
How often will you reach out to me?
These questions will help you understand how your financial advisor will work with you and if that system is good for you. Are they able to meet virtually? Are they flexible in terms of changing needs, goals, and priorities? How do they set up your financial plan? Is your plan comprehensive? There are so many valuable insights you can glean by asking these questions.
Finding the right financial advisor for you can be a tough process. There are a lot of things you need to know to ensure that your advisor is working in your best interest and has a genuine desire to help you succeed. We structured our business to be as transparent with our fees and operations as possible in order to build trust right from the initial meeting with our clients.
Ready to learn more about how we can serve you? Schedule a call today!
Mark Fonville, CFP®
Mark has over 18 years of experience helping individuals and families invest and plan for retirement. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and President of Covenant Wealth Advisors, an award winning wealth management firm in Richmond and Williamsburg, VA.