How I Would Choose a Financial Advisor

Finding a good financial advisor is hard because you need someone that is both trustworthy and doesn’t have biases that will cost you a fortune.   You certainly don’t want a crook that will steal your money, but you also don’t want a salesman claiming to be an advisor that will mislead you.  Finally, you don’t want someone that believes they are the next Peter Lynch because chances are they aren’t!

Can You Afford a Financial Advisor?

For financial planning there are some cases where you just have to do it yourself.   If you are a new investor starting with $0 and investing $1000 each year you need to be self sufficient.  Any Planner that takes a % of assets under management will not talk to you- there just isn’t enough to cover their cost of doing business.  You could consult with a fee only advisor, but that could easily cost you a year of investing and a better plan doesn’t beat investing earlier.  At $1000/year even buying a $10 investing book will cost you 1% of your investment!  Your best option is to make your own investment plan initially then seek professional help later.  Your plan could be very simple like a low fee target retirement fund in an IRA.  After you have $200,000 or more a professional becomes a lot more cost effective.  At that point the optimization of the portfolio could potentially cover the cost of the advisor.How to StartAsk people you know for recommendations- who they trust to manage their money.  If you can’t get a personal recommendation I would try searching the NAPFA website.  I would plan to interview a few people.  Here is a list of questions to ask from the SEC,  I think how the advisor is paid is the most important question they list.  I would steer clear of advisors that earn commissions from what investments you purchase.  There is just too large a conflict of interest for such an advisor to give you the best advice.   I would prefer an hourly fee over a % of assets under management as advising how to invest $1,000,000 should not take significantly more time and effort than advising how to invest $500,000.

My Questions

In addition to those from the SEC I would also add the following questions:

  1. How did you advise clients similar to me during 2007 and 2008?  Why?  Did they make good decisions- for good reasons?  I think the best answer would be “Stick to our plan but save more/withdraw less.”  Their plan was solid but they are adjusting to the possibility of a harsher reality.  Other good changes include- rebalancing, increasing % bonds as you age, or switching to a lower cost equivalent fund.  If their reaction to 2008 was to scrap the old plan and try some totally new plan seek someone else.
  2. How do you pick the investments you recommend? I would be wary of someone that looks at past performance, remember all the warnings that it isn’t a predictor for future performance? I would also be wary if they claim some special knowledge- it is really hard to beat the market, what is the chance you found the next Peter Lynch? If they could really beat the market consistently then they are wasting their time planning for you as they should be running their own fund and making billions. I would like to hear minimal fees or covering different asset classes, which would naturally lead into choosing index funds.
  3. Describe a time when you convinced a client not to make a stupid mistake? A good advisor should be able to prevent you from making mistakes. If they haven’t done that with other clients a lot they are unlikely to be good advisors.

Retaining Control

Finally, I would want an advisor that would allow me to keep control over my investment accounts.  There are two good reasons to keep control:

  1. That insures you are informed of any changes since you have to make them.
  2. It prevents the possibility of fraud.  Bernie Madoff could never have run his ponzi scheme without controlling the investment accounts and forging the reports and transactions.

There are some disadvantages- you don’t get to delegate the transactions and you may miss out on lower cost funds only available to very large investors.  I bet Bernie’s clients are regretting giving him control.

2 Responses to “How I Would Choose a Financial Advisor”

  1. There are also websites like ClaroConnect.com which are free, unbiased search engines that allow you to screen advisors by criteria like location, qualifications and fees.

  2. Rick Francis says:

    @Financial Planner,

    Thanks for commenting! A search engine would be very helpful for finding initial prospects. From your alias I take it you are an advisor- how would you feel about getting some of those questions?

    -Rick

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