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Choosing a Financial Advisor – Part 3

A Four-Part Series

  1. Follow the Money – The Importance of Understanding an Advisory Firm’s Structure
  2. Trust but Verify – Make Sure Your Interests are Coming First
  3. Hiring the A-Team – Evaluating Talent and Resources Available to Serve You
  4. It’s a Match – Comparing Teams and Choosing your Best Fit

In our four-part Choosing a Financial Advisor Series, we provide information and perspectives to clarify the distinctions within the financial industry, which will help you understand how to think about choosing the right advisor for your specific needs.

In Part 3 of the series, we focus on the importance of understanding the resources and capabilities of an advisory firm.

Hiring the A-Team:

Evaluating Talent and Resources Available to Serve You

In our previous posts, we’ve explored the importance of determining fee structures of advisory firms, and the differences between a suitability standard and a fiduciary standard.

When evaluating the ability of an advisor to deliver the needed level of services and solutions, however, few topics are more important than understanding the collective capabilities of the team of individuals comprising a firm.

TALENT AND TEAM ARE CRITICALLY IMPORTANT

For firms best suited to provide sound planning advice across multiple disciplines, it should be reflected in the staff’s credentials and experience. If most members of the firm are investment professionals and administrative staff, the client may experience an approach focused on portfolio management. Potential clients should obtain an understanding of a proposed personal team structure to determine how much time will be devoted to their needs, as situations may have become more complex as time has passed and wealth has accumulated.

CAN EVERY ADVISORY FIRM REALLY BE “COMPREHENSIVE”?

When evaluating potential advisory firms, a key factor in the decision-making process may be in determining what other services the financial professional is providing beyond investment management. Advisory firms at first glance may seem similar, but may differ immensely in the range of depth of services provided.

Nearly all firms may claim to be “comprehensive”, for example, but by evaluating the additional education, experience, credentials, and expertise of staff members in key areas providing such advice, the differences in advisory firms can become clearer. A staff of CFP® Professionals will be greater equipped and trained to handle a wider and deeper range of personal financial issues. As part of the evaluation process, firms should be evaluated not only on these capabilities, but on whether the cost for those services is built into the current cost structure or treated as a separate fee. 

CONSIDERATIONS IN THE EVALUATION PROCESS:

  • Ask to see sample materials that will be used and presented if hired. Can the advisor explain it in a way that is easily understood, or do they provide a 50-page automated and indecipherable “financial plan” downloaded from standardized software?
  • If interviewing a potential advisor, do they only spend time talking about their firm, their process, and their ”toolbox” or menu of services? Or does the advisor actively listen, asking questions about your values, your desires for money, and your most pressing issues to ensure the right fit?
  • Inquire as the depth and breadth of resources that support the advisor’s planning recommendations. What is the composition of their team? If an independent firm, how do they work with outside advisors such as attorneys and tax-preparers? If part of a larger financial institution, how do they ensure that the products and services recommended are truly in your best interest?

Coming up in the final installment of our series, we’ll examine how to approach the challenge of deciding on the “right” advisor for you.

Disclosure

The Certified Financial Planner™, CFP® and federally registered CFP (with flame design) marks (collectively, the “CFP® marks”) are professional certification marks granted in the United States by Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (“CFP Board”).

The CFP® certification is a voluntary certification; no federal or state law or regulation requires financial planners to hold CFP® certification. It is recognized in the United States and a number of other countries for its (1) high standard of professional education; (2) stringent code of conduct and standards of practice; and (3) ethical requirements that govern professional engagements with clients. Currently, more than 62,000 individuals have obtained CFP® certification in the United States.

To attain the right to use the CFP® marks, an individual must satisfactorily fulfill the following requirements:

Education: Complete an advanced college-level course of study addressing the financial planning subject areas that CFP Board’s studies have determined as necessary for the competent and professional delivery of financial planning services, and attain a Bachelor’s Degree from a regionally accredited United States college or university (or its equivalent from a foreign university). CFP Board’s financial planning subject areas include insurance planning and risk management, employee benefits planning, investment planning, income tax planning, retirement planning, and estate planning.

Examination: Pass the comprehensive CFP® Certification Examination. The examination, administered in 10 hours over a two-day period, includes case studies and client scenarios designed to test one’s ability to correctly diagnose financial planning issues and apply one’s knowledge of financial planning to real world circumstances.

Experience: Complete at least three years of full-time financial planning-related experience (or the equivalent, measured as 2,000 hours per year); and

Ethics: Agree to be bound by CFP Board’s Standards of Professional Conduct, a set of documents outlining the ethical and practice standards for CFP® professionals.

Individuals who become certified must complete the following ongoing education and ethics requirements in order to maintain the right to continue to use the CFP® marks:

Continuing Education: Complete 30 hours of continuing education hours every two years, including two hours on the Code of Ethics and other parts of the Standards of Professional Conduct, to maintain competence and keep up with developments in the financial planning field; and

Ethics: Renew an agreement to be bound by the Standards of Professional Conduct. The Standards prominently require that CFP® professionals provide financial planning services at a fiduciary standard of care. This means CFP® professionals must provide financial planning services in the best interests of their clients.

CFP® professionals who fail to comply with the above standards and requirements may be subject to CFP Board’s enforcement process, which could result in suspension or permanent revocation of their CFP® certification.

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