Every global citizen needs the knowledge and ability to save and invest for a better future. Fortunately, there are more than 170,000 CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professionals – including nearly 80,000 CFP® professionals in the U.S. – dedicated to providing people with the competent and ethical financial planning advice they need.
On Oct. 4, we will observe the first-ever World Financial Planning Day as we join our international peers to raise awareness of the importance of financial planning.
This is a cause near to my heart. Every day on television, radio, the web and through podcasts, I report about and answer questions from a wide range of Americans about their personal finances. I do so because understanding our money issues is the first step towards taking control of our financial lives.
For a glimpse of the financial planning profession’s activities and presence around the globe, visit the Financial Planning Standards Board’s World Financial Planning Day website. And for a look at the many ways and many phases of life in which a CFP® professional in the United States can help you, visit our Learning Center at LetsMakeaPlan.org.
And if you don’t have a financial planner, consider finding one. You can find a U.S. planner or advisor near you with this tool on LetsMakeaPlan.org.
Below, we’ve included important questions to ask as you search for a financial planner or advisor.
The first question to ask – before all the others: Do you put your clients’ interests first as you provide financial planning? A financial fiduciary puts a client’s interests ahead of his or her own when providing advice, and makes full disclosure of any potential or existing conflicts of interest that could influence the advice. All CFP® professionals are required to act as a fiduciary when providing financial planning. However, there are some financial professionals who are not held to this standard. So, what do you do? Ask the person you are working with: “Are you a fiduciary?” And get it in writing.
Here are nine other important questions:
1. What experience do you have?
Ask for a brief description of the financial planner’s work experience and how it relates to their current practice. CFP® professionals must have a minimum of two years professional experience related to financial planning.
2. What are your qualifications?
Ask about the credentials your planner holds, and learn how they stay up to date with current changes and developments in the financial planning field. CFP® professionals expand their knowledge and stay informed through mandatory continuing education courses.
3. What financial planning services do you offer?
Credentials, licenses and areas of expertise are all factors that determine the services a financial planner can offer. Generally, financial planners cannot sell insurance or securities products, such as mutual funds or stocks, without proper licenses. And they cannot give investment advice unless registered with state or federal regulatory bodies.
4. What is your approach to financial planning?
Make sure the planner's investing philosophy isn't too cautious or overly aggressive for your needs. Learn how they will carry out recommendations or refer tasks to others.
5. What types of clients do you typically work with?
Some financial planners prefer to work with clients whose assets fall within a particular range or focus on specific areas, like retirement funding or college planning. It's important to make sure the planner is a good fit for your individual situation. Keep in mind that some planners require you to have a certain net worth before offering services. When you search for a CFP® professional on this site, you can specify your investable asset range to find a financial planner whose services best match your needs.
6. Will you be the only financial planner working with me?
Some financial planners work with their clients directly, and others have a team of people that work with them. Ask who will handle your account, meet them and ask whether the planner works with professionals outside their own practice, such as attorneys, insurance agents or tax specialists. If yes, get a list of their names to check on their backgrounds.
7. How will I pay for your financial planning services?
Planners can be paid in several ways: through fees, commissions or a combination of both. As part of your written agreement, your financial planner should make it clear how they will be paid for the services to be provided.
8. How much do you typically charge?
Although what you pay will depend on your particular needs, the planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed. Costs should include the planner's hourly rates or flat fees, or the percentage of commission received on products you may purchase, as well as the costs of the underlying investments in the account.
9. Have you ever been publicly disciplined for any unlawful or unethical actions in your career?
CFP Board, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and your state insurance and securities departments each keep records on the disciplinary history of financial planners and advisors. Ask which organizations the planner is regulated by and contact these groups to conduct a background check. CFP® professionals are subject to disciplinary action if they violate CFP Board's standards.