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

The Financial Advisor Questionnaire

A group of experts revealed which questions are most important when looking for and working with a financial advisor.

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

In the beginning, the process of finding a good financial advisor looks a lot like finding a doctor, auto mechanic, home remodeler or other professional service provider. You do Internet searches, ask friends, check industry registries, or follow up on advertisements.

Once you've identified candidates, it's time to direct questions to the financial advisors themselves. The questions you'll use to narrow the options are unlike those you'll ask anyone else. And the answers they provide are potentially even more important. Finally, once you’ve hired and are working with a financial advisor, getting the most out of the relationship means asking good questions as it goes.

Financial advisors and finance experts provided their take on the questions you should ask yourself and your potential/current financial advisor at each stage of the process. Here are their most commonly mentioned questions and explanations of why those questions are important to ask.

Deciding to Seek a Financial Advisor

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

Having a handle on your current situation will help you better assess your needs for the future and convey them to a financial advisor. That is important. Without a complete picture of your current situation, as well as your goals and aspirations for the future, a financial advisor will not be able to serve you effectively. Your financial advisor will 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 advisor, consider how much you currently pay in fees for self-directed investments. Also, if you’re thinking of switching financial advisors, you need to know exactly how much you are paying your current financial advisor. Be sure to include in these considerations the fact that a financial advisor will provide you with insight, expertise, and guidance you won't get from self-directed investments.

Interviewing a Financial Advisor

What services do you provide?

Though this sounds simplistic, it is important to know what a financial advisor 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, saving for college, allocating assets, selecting investments, managing taxes and more can all fall under the purview of a financial planner or financial advisor. Find a financial advisor whose services match and, preferably, exceed your requirements.

Have you experienced any client disputes or regulatory issues?

A financial advisor’s record of client disputes and involvement with regulators are good topics for early questions. Ask the financial advisor about previous issues with unhappy clients or regulatory infractions, but also run the financial advisor'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 advisors, and firms. In addition, ask about their education, certifications and employment history, and request references from current clients.

How will we communicate?

Many financial advisors reach out to their clients weekly or more often through newsletters, podcasts, blogs, emails, and other means. Your financial advisor 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. A special situation could be many things, including 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 advisor any time you feel the need, which may happen when you are considering a major expense, experiencing a life change such as divorce or inheritance, or simply wanting to discuss options.

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

Ideally, you will work regularly with the person who recruited you or to which you were referred. If not, you'll want to identify and meet with the person or persons you will be working with, especially if you’re working with a larger firm. Some firms may ask you to work with a team. Meet all of the people on the team and make sure you're comfortable with them before deciding. Also ask about business continuity planning—what happens and whom you'll be working with if the financial advisor 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 advisors and investors. Contrarian financial advisors aim to profit by going against the trend with out-of-favor investments, while momentum financial advisors look for investments that are rapidly appreciating in value. Similarly, some financial advisors 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 you are comfortable in the relationship, select a financial advisor 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 advice you're going to get. Financial advisors may receive flat one-time fees for basic services such as preparing financial plans, ongoing annual fees based on a percentage of the total amount they are managing, or earn commissions paid by you or the company that provides the investments.

Working With Your Financial Advisor

What solutions have you recommended to clients in my situation?

Financial advisors 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 advisor's specialty, the options recommended to you should be the best for your particular needs and goals. Also, it's a good rule of thumb not to invest in anything you don't understand well enough to be comfortable with. You may have to ask your financial advisor to explain a given investment vehicle.

What are you most concerned about, and what should I be concerned about?

Once you have a financial advisor, it is important to pick his or her brain about the things that could affect your financial plan. This will also give you a sense of how up-to-date and in the know your financial advisor is to what is happening in the world and how it can affect your portfolio.

What are my blind spots or weaknesses as an investor?

A key component to a successful relationship with your financial advisor is having he or she know they can be honest with you. Opening the door to their feedback can help you see your finances more clearly and make the best choices. If you want to make a change, be sure to ask your financial advisor, “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 be making more money?

It’s important to encourage your financial advisor to constantly stress test your portfolio and financial plan. You’re paying him or her specifically so your investments work as hard as they can and it’s not a “set it and forget it” endeavor. Make sure your financial advisor is optimizing your investments across the board.

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