Meeting with a financial planner for the first time can be fraught with anxiety. Finance is a personal journey, and creating trust with a professional can be difficult. Fortunately, you can take steps to get the most out of that initial meeting and avoid working with someone whose vision and values don’t align with yours. It’s important to bring pertinent financial information as well as the questions that will lay the foundation for a productive relationship.
Your Document Checklist
It’s not necessary to bring every financial statement, but the more information you can provide in the initial meeting, the more meaningful the discussion will be. A good financial planner can process this information and lay out a clear path for how they can assist you in coordinating and reaching financial goals.
This checklist is a good place to start as you share your family finances:
- Investment statements
- Spreadsheet detailing net worth
- Summary of insurance policies
- Recent tax return
- Employment benefit details
- Pension and Social Security projections
- Estate planning documents
While the paperwork provides a current snapshot of your finances, the following set of questions will help you set expectations with your financial planner.
Are You a Fiduciary?
This question has emerged over time as perhaps the most important question you can ask an advisor. A fiduciary commits to acting in the client’s best interest, a concept that can have a wide range of interpretations. One way to ensure that an advisor is a fiduciary is to work with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. A CFP® professional operates under CFP Board’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct, which requires acting as a fiduciary when providing financial advice.
What Is the Firm’s Investment Philosophy?
The advisor should be able to explain how the firm approaches the investment process, including providing details on the types of holdings (individual stocks, exchange-traded funds [ETFs], mutual funds, etc.) as well as the impetus for making any changes. Another important question you can ask: Does the advisor invest their own money the same way they invest their clients’ money?
What Is the Firm’s Fee Structure?
To avoid any confusion about the firm’s fee structure, ask the advisor to clearly explain the fees. There are commissions, transaction fees, 12b-1 fees and management fees to discuss. The advisor should be able to explain exactly what the cost will be on a yearly basis.
What Is the Scope of the Financial Planning Engagement?
Ask what you can expect to be covered in each meeting with the financial planner. You may assume that the planner will discuss investments, but how about taxes, insurance and estate planning? If you have children, how in depth will the discussions get in terms of selecting and paying for college? The planner may have certain specialties in terms of working with business owners, divorcees, retirees or millennials. The more information you can glean in the initial meeting, the easier it will be to evaluate the delivery of services.
How Will This Relationship Be Measured?
This is a question that both you and your advisor should be crystal clear on after that first meeting. You might have had a prior advisory experience and know what went right and what went wrong. The advisor can detail technological capabilities, the number of meetings per year, what review meetings will consist of and how the firm measures a successful relationship.
These questions cover the broad strokes of the financial planning relationship, but there are always additional details that can help you make an informed decision. Visit LetsMakeAPlan.org for additional information on how you can find a CFP® professional near you. Once you’ve found the right financial planner for you, it will be an ongoing process of reevaluation to make sure your expectations are being met.