Christmas is coming; 2017 brings a new administration; hostilities around the world are escalating daily. Is your job secure? Are your finances in order? Will your home and 401K increase in value? Are rising health care costs an issue for you? These are questions that many concerned Americans are asking as December approaches. Do you have definitive answers for these queries or are you filled with uncertainty about your future? Do you need help financially?
Middle Class Families need Quality Financial Advice
My father was a civil engineer for the State of Massachusetts for thirty-five years and a homeowner in the City of Boston. He retired at age sixty-two with an 80% pension and a disability check he received for being wounded in World War II. Dad was the head of a solid middle class family. He passed away at the age of 84 and left my mother with a house that was paid for and her social security check of $432 a month. The pension and disability checks stopped after his death. That was twelve years ago. Mom celebrated her 95th birthday this past August and she’s broke.
Do you think Dad could have used some professional financial advice? Born in 1921, he couldn’t possibly imagine my mother living into her mid-nineties, nor did he consider the scenario that she would not be taken care of by either the State or the Veterans. A financial advisor could have prepared him for this, but like most middle class workers, he didn’t see the value in hiring one. In his mind, financial advisors were only for the rich. That wasn’t true then and it certainly isn’t true today.
Key Questions to Ask when Searching for a Financial Advisor
The task of searching for a financial advisor can be daunting if you’ve never sought out professional financial assistance, so it’s advantageous to have a list of the right questions to ask. Where do you begin? Start by asking your family and friends if they know someone qualified. Your bank may also provide a resource or two for you. Once you have a few leads, begin your quest by researching your prospects online. Here are a few things to look for:
Communications: How do you contact the financial advisor?
What type of contact info is listed on the advisor’s website? If you only see a contact form with no address and phone number, that’s a red flag. There are a few reasons why a financial advisor would do that:
- The firm is a start-up, with no physical address or phone number
- The firm is out of state or part of a larger group with a different name
- The firm is not legitimate
Technology: What type of software does the firm use?
Most financial advisors have links on their webpage to client communication and reporting tools. The image shown here is the home page of what is known as a “client portal.” If an advisory firm doesn’t offer something similar to this, don’t hire them. Client portals provide transparency, a clear picture of what is happening with your money daily, not just when you receive a performance report in the mail.
Another question to ask is whether or not the firm you are looking at offers financial planning as part of their offering. Middle class families don’t need thirty page reports filled with charts, graphs, and terms they don’t understand. A simple plan which outlines how to save and where to distribute money is far more valuable. This image is from Money Guide Pro. Other quality planning tools you’ll want to look for on an advisory website are Instream, Advizr, and Right Capital.
Information: Does the financial advisor have a blog?
Reading a firm’s blog can tell you a lot about the advisor who works there. The most important element to look for here is whether or not the blog posts are readable to someone with limited financial knowledge. Advisors have a tendency to write above the comprehension level of their clients. This is also a red flag. A financial professional who doesn’t explain financial matters in terms you can understand will be difficult to work with. Don’t get into a relationship where communications are going to be difficult. Marriages like that typically end in ugly divorces.
Speciality Services: Accountants, Planners, Real Estate Advisors, Asset Managers
It is important to understand that there are different types of financial advisors. If you’re looking for an accountant who can help you with tax planning, search for advisors with the initials CPA after their name. Financial planners typically have CFP or CFA as part of their title. These distinctions are certifications and indicators of a higher level of education in their field, so be sure to take them into account when making your final decision.
Other specialties in financial services are real estate and asset management. Those who handle these tasks are a breed unto themselves. If you’re looking to start investing in property, search for an advisor who specializes in real estate. If you have large cash reserves and want to invest in the stock market, look for a pure asset manager. Both are easy to find using search terms like “Real Estate Advisor” or “Asset Manager”. Enter either of these and add the name of your town to get only local results.
How much will all of this cost you?
The fees in financial services vary almost as much as the types of advisors do. Some firms charge flat fees (common among planners). Asset managers usually charge a percentage of your investments. There are also “tiered” fee structures, where your fees are calculated on a scale based on total assets. Is one of these better than the others? It depends on your situation. When you shop, compare. And remember, you get what you pay for. Your future is far too important to sell to the lowest bidder.