Everyone who needs help with his or her money wants to know how much it’s going to cost, and that’s all over the map. Some pros charge by the hour; some have an annual retainer plus occasional hourly fees; others work for a percentage of the investments you ask them to manage; and still others have opaque multiple pricing arrangements. Choose an arrangement you feel comfortable with and an adviser who’s upfront about billing. A good adviser will list fees on his or her Web site.
Remember, though, that what you pay isn’t as important as who you pay. Take your time screening financial pros and conducting introductory interviews. Good advisers will spend time evaluating your situation before they make a proposal. Ask plenty of questions, and be sure you cover these five critical points:
What can you do for me? Financial advisers are not miracle workers. They are trained to be problem-solvers, so be specific about what you’re looking for. Are you juggling saving for your kids’ college and your retirement? If you need more monthly income, how would he or she (or the team) restructure your investments? If you want to buy a business, what will be the consequences if it doesn’t work out right away and you need more capital? Can the adviser help you with a business plan? Do you want to begin making donations to schools and charities from your estate? You’re looking for an adviser with the skills and resources to add value.
Do you have clients like me? Ask every potential adviser how he or she handles cases that are similar to yours. The more acute your needs, the more specific knowledge you’ll require about such things as taxes, insurance and investment risk. You can’t afford to retain someone who rarely deals with your concerns, no matter how good his credentials and testimonials.
Are you conservative or aggressive? Some advisers think anything other than a certificate of deposit or a Treasury bond is risky. Others insist that stocks will beat everything else in the long run and aren’t afraid of edgy ideas. If you want a portfolio redo, be sure the adviser not only asks you for initial input but is also in sync with your temperament.
What if I have a question? It’s okay to agree on formal sit-downs with your adviser twice a year, but if you want more frequent consultations, you should be able to call without getting dinged for $150 every time. Are assistants qualified to do more than open the mail? What services and financial information will you get as a client online behind a firewall?
Are you available? You don’t need a celebrity who’s in the profession more to promote himself than to help his clients. If an adviser already manages hundreds of accounts, look elsewhere. An independent planner or a small group practice isn’t necessarily the best option, but advisers affiliated with national financial firms are more likely to have bosses up the line who are watching the volume of business they produce. That may not be in your best interests.