Choosing a Financial Advisor: Part Three - What to Discuss

Personal Money Planning |

By Gary Silverman, CFP®

We continue the series on how to find a financial advisor. Today we’ll whittle down your list.

You’ve found an advisor (or better yet, three) who look like they might be a good fit for you… but how do you know? First, I would recommend scheduling a meeting. Most financial planners and advisors will offer a free introductory meeting so you can kick their tires and so they can see if you’re the kind of client they want to work with.

Going into the meeting, I’d also recommend shutting up in the beginning to see what questions the advisor has for you.

“But Gary, if I’m looking for a financial advisor, shouldn’t I be the one asking the questions?” The answer is absolutely! But don’t fret because you will get your turn. I find it can be useful to get a feel for what the advisor is interested in knowing about you.

You see, some advisors are like the guy whose only tool is a hammer… everything looks like a nail. So, if they start explaining how you need a living trust, more life insurance, a particular stock, or that you need to go through some training classes, all before they even know anything about you, leave. That is not an advisor. That’s a salesman, and a poor one at that.

Now for your questions. Assuming you have done your homework and know what kind of help you need, ask the potential advisor what experience they have in that area of personal finance. They may sound qualified, but if they have never worked on a case like yours, you don’t want to be their guinea pig.

Ask about their qualifications, what it took to earn those qualifications, and how they maintain their level of expertise. There are many titles and designations which have no requirements other than working long enough at a particular company, sending in an application and a filing fee, sitting through a few hours of a workshop, or passing a very simple test.

Do you want to work with the type of person sitting in front of you? There is no truly wrong answer to this one. Some offices will have a single advisor as your specific point of contact. Others employ a team of people. And some will hand you off to whomever has the specific expertise you need at a particular time. All these methods work—you just need to be aware how the office operates, and if you are ok with it, before you hire them.

Ask the advisor if they’ve ever been disciplined. No, we’re not worried about when they got a spanking for writing on the upholstery with crayons, but instead whether any of the professional organizations or regulatory agencies they are licensed under have ever found them to be less lawful or ethical than you’d like. And don’t just take their word for it; check it yourself.  The Securities and Exchange Commission has information and links with important information about brokers and investment advisors at

Oh, and before you leave their office, you probably want to find out what they’re going to cost you. More on that next week.

Floods in Libya, earthquake in Morocco, the continued plight on Maui, and a war raging in Ukraine, and a whole lot of etcetera… this list is getting too long but should not be forgotten.