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Q&A: Choosing a Financial Advisor? It’s All About Service

A guide to choosing a financial advisor who you can work with.

Question: I see the value in having a financial advisor, but there are so many of them out there, and I’ve been disappointed in the past. Some don’t make themselves readily available. Others seem to be trying to sell me various products. How can I find an advisor who will respond to my needs?

Ric: Service is the #1 issue most consumers raise when they express disappointment with an advisor — or with any vendor, for that matter, whether it’s a doctor, butcher, accountant or what-have-you.

Consumers usually complain their vendor isn’t available or doesn’t return calls in a timely fashion, respond to emails or proactively contact them. If this sounds like your experience, you were right to turn away.

Another checkpoint is the breadth of the advice and service offered. If you tell an advisor you have money to invest and ask how you should invest it, and all he or she does is answer that question, then that advisor is not providing comprehensive, effective, long-term service. Such advisors are simply clerking, or pitching products that may earn them high commissions.

When you ask an advisor how you should invest the money you have, he or she should first ask about your circumstances. Advisors who are comprehensive ask about your marital status, children and the health of everyone in your family.

They ask about your employee benefits at work and to what extent you’re contributing to your retirement plan at work. They ask about your credit card debt, your mortgage, the kinds and amounts of insurance you have, whether you have a will, how much you are saving, and much more.

Their aim is to determine your long-term financial needs and goals. Only in that context do they talk to you about the money you say you want to invest.

They also consider any funds you have elsewhere and how those are being used. They give you comprehensive, holistic advice that is also multigenerational. That’s because, if you have children, there needs to be a discussion about college planning.

And if you have aging parents, the advisor talks with you about your parents’ health. If you’re divorcing or if you have an unmarried partner, this too is taken into consideration.

If the advisors you contacted in the past didn’t address such matters, you’re right to say they weren’t responsive or worth the compensation they were asking for. If all they were doing was pitching you products, they weren’t really financial planners. They were product-based, commission-based salespeople.

As an alternative, I would encourage you to have a conversation with one of our planners to see whether the kind of service we provide is something you might want to pursue. You wouldn’t be making any commitments. The conversation wouldn’t obligate you. It would merely give you some exposure and some sense of the comprehensive service we offer.

What happens after that would be up to you, but at least you’d have the information you need to make an informed decision.

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