• 6-Minute Article
  • |
  • May 24, 2018

The Financial Professional Questionnaire

Key questions to ask when looking for and working with a financial professional.

Smiling retired woman featured in an article about the financial advisor questionnaire

Updated: November 23, 2022

Questions this article can help you answer:
  • What should I look for in a financial professional?
  • What should I discuss with a financial professional?
  • What should I think about before hiring a financial professional?

Finding a financial professional is a lot like finding a doctor, a home remodeler, or another service provider. You may search the internet, ask friends, check industry registries, or follow up on advertisements to find the right match. Once you’ve identified candidates, you can send questions to financial professionals directly. Asking questions beforehand could help you narrow down your options. Ultimately, once you’ve hired and are working with a financial professional, getting the most out of that relationship requires consistently asking the right questions.

Financial professionals and finance experts provided their take on questions you should ask yourself and your potential or current financial professional. Here are their most commonly mentioned questions and explanations of why those questions are essential.


Questions to Ask When Looking for a Financial Professional

Do I know whether I will have enough money to retire comfortably?

Having a handle on your current financial situation could help you better assess your future needs and convey them to a financial professional. Without a complete picture of your finances as well as your goals and aspirations for the future, a financial professional may not be able to serve you as effectively. With this type of information in hand, your financial professional can devise a strategy for your retirement based on your holdings, goals, and financial outlook.

Do I know how much I currently pay in fees for my investments – without any guidance?

In order to accurately assess the value of a relationship with a financial professional, consider how much you currently pay in fees for self-directed investments. If you’re thinking of switching financial professionals, it would be helpful to know exactly how much you’re paying your current financial professional. Also, consider that a financial professional will provide you with insight, expertise, and guidance that you may not get from self-directed investments.


Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Financial Professional

What services do you provide?

It’s important to know what a financial professional can and cannot do for you. The financial services industry is vast, and anyone from tax preparers to fund managers may dispense financial advice, which may not always be in your best interest long term. Creating a budget, setting up a savings plan, choosing insurance, planning for retirement, allocating assets, selecting investments, managing taxes, and more can all fall under the scope of a financial planner or financial professional. Find a financial professional whose services match and, preferably, exceed your requirements.

Have you experienced any client disputes or regulatory issues?

A financial professional’s record of client disputes and involvement with regulators are good topics for early questions. Ask the financial professional about previous issues with unhappy clients or regulatory infractions, but also run the financial professional's name through BrokerCheck, a registry maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to learn more about the background and experience of brokers, financial professionals, and firms. In addition, ask about their education, certifications, and employment history, and request references from current clients.

How and when will we communicate?

Many financial professionals reach out to their clients weekly or more often through newsletters, podcasts, blogs, emails, and other means. Your financial professional should also regularly communicate directly with you through a face-to-face, phone, or video meeting annually, semi-annually, or quarterly, as well as any time a special situation comes up. Examples include high levels of market volatility, tax filing season, or the approach of your planned retirement date. You should also be able to contact your financial professional any time you feel the need, which may happen when you’re considering a major expense, experiencing a life change such as divorce or inheritance, or when you simply want to discuss options.

Who will I be working with if I become your client?

Ideally, you’ll work regularly with the person you were recruited by or referred to. If not, you’ll want to identify and meet with the person or people you’ll be working with, especially if you’re working with a larger firm. Some firms may ask you to work with a team. Meet the people on the team and make sure you’re comfortable with them before deciding. Also ask about business continuity planning – what happens and who you’ll be working with if the financial professional you signed on with retires, leaves the firm, or is otherwise not available.

What is your approach to investing?

There are almost as many approaches to investing as there are financial professionals and investors. Contrarian financial professionals aim to profit by going against the trend with out-of-favor investments, while momentum financial professionals look for investments that are rapidly appreciating in value. Similarly, some financial professionals emphasize investments that offer guaranteed income streams, while others search for opportunities to generate outsized rewards in exchange for equal amounts of risk. To help ensure that you’re comfortable in the relationship, select a financial professional whose philosophy is similar to your own.

How do you charge for your services?

Don’t be shy about inquiring about how you’ll pay for the services you’ll receive. Financial professionals may receive flat one-time fees for basic offerings like preparing financial plans, ongoing annual fees based on a percentage of the total amount they’re managing, or earn commissions paid by you or the company that provides the investments.


Working With Your Financial Professional

What solutions have you recommended to clients in my situation?

Financial professionals tend to specialize in the types of investments they recommend. Some emphasize individual stocks and bonds, while others prefer mutual funds. Some like private equity investments better than publicly listed securities. Some appreciate the tax benefits of investments such as annuities, while others like tax-exempt municipal bonds. No matter what your financial professional’s specialty, the options recommended to you should be the best for your particular needs and goals. Also, it’s recommended not to invest in anything you don’t understand well enough to be comfortable with. You may have to ask your financial professional to explain a given investment vehicle.

What are you most concerned about, and should I share those similar sentiments?

Once you have a financial professional, it’s important to pick their brain about the things that could affect your plans for retirement. This will also give you a sense of how up-to-date your financial professional is with what’s happening in the world and how it could impact your portfolio.

What are my blind spots or weaknesses as an investor?

A key component to a successful relationship with your financial professional is trust. Being open to their feedback could help you see your finances more clearly and make better choices. If you want to make a change, be sure to ask your financial professional, “Is this a good decision?” “Do you think there is a bias that is negatively affecting my choices?” “Is there anything I’m missing here?”

How could I make more money?

It’s important to encourage your financial professional to constantly stress test your portfolio and plans for retirement. Your expectations should be for your investments to work as hard as they can so it’s not a “set it and forget it” endeavor. Make sure your financial professional is optimizing your investments across the board.