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Research shows that the majority of individuals find their financial advisor through a referral from a close friend, a relative, or another financial professional such as a CPA or Attorney.  Referrals can indeed be a good place to start, but pursuing any new financial advisor relationship is worth the effort of exploring how they will fit with you.

Further, situations such as Madoff, Stanford, and a host of others in recent history have reminded us that not all advisors have your best interest at heart. Additionally, financial advising can mean just about anything.  In some firms it’s about recommending stocks, mutual funds or insurance products.  In others, it may be a comprehensive financial planning process involving multiple aspects of your financial well-being.

A few well-designed questions can help put you on track to finding the relationship that’s right for you.

What do you need to know from me to determine if I am a candidate for your services?

A good financial advisor will typically have a certain type of client they work best with.  An advisor may ask about your financial status, your investment experience, your employment and other challenges you may face such as estate or tax planning issues.  As an example, an advisor who specializes in corporate executives may not be the best choice for entrepreneurs or business owners, and vice versa.

What is your approach to financial planning and investing?

An advisor must be able to clearly articulate and summarize their philosophy in regards to financial planning and investing. Superior advisors have a different mindset and act in ways that set them apart from the pack.  They have a well defined strategy that spells out in detail how they go about generating results. They have a high level of consistency and develop competency in their investing methodology. They are highly disciplined in the way they make decisions and know when to sell an investment, as well as when to buy one. They have confidence in their approach, knowing that a sound strategy employed over time will provide the most reliable method for achieving your goals.

What steps would we take in our first meeting?

Your initial meeting should be focused on learning about you.  Be prepared for your advisor to ask you to bring a complete set of financial information, but the discussion should be about you, your goals, values, and what’s important about money to you.

How do you determine what strategies are right for me?

Finding an advisor who provides a written investment plan or “financial roadmap” based on your initial discussions is a sign you are on the right track.

Where is my account held?  Who has custody of the assets and how am I protected?

The Madoff situation raised the awareness of having a strong custody partner and controls around access to your funds.  Make sure you understand who the custody partner is, who checks are made out to, and to what level insurance protection is provided.

What is your process for follow up?  How often will we interact?

An important ingredient to a successful financial plan is the regular monitoring of the progress you are making toward your goals.  Look for an advisor who offers a way to benchmark your progress and communicates through regularly scheduled progress meetings.

What other services do you provide?

Many advisors offer financial planning, insurance reviews, estate planning services, or tax planning integration, either in-house or in connection with other professionals.  Find an advisor who offers access to the services that are most important to you.

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