There are a variety of reasons you might hire a financial advisor. Perhaps you just retired, and you’d like to know how your nest egg is going to support your retirement? Maybe your career is taking off, and you’d like to make sure you’re taking the right steps to ensure financial success. Or, perhaps you have a huge problem, you hire an advisor to help fix it, and they help you identify other opportunities to improve your financial picture.
An often-overlooked quality of a good financial advisor is the ability to do work that you might not have time for. After all, hiring someone to write a financial plan is completely useless if you aren’t able to (or don’t set aside time to) put the recommendations into action. Even when people feel they just need a checklist of action items to do on their own, life has a funny way of interrupting at the wrong time.
Hiring a financial advisor can make sense if you are looking for someone who can help you get things done. Hiring the right financial advisor should make you feel like a load is being lifted from your shoulders, or work is being taken off your busy plate. While that might be hard to quantify at times, here are 7 concrete things your financial advisor should be doing to help reduce your workload:
#1. Putting Together the Big Financial Picture…and Keeping Track of It
Before making any major financial decision, you should always ask: “What impact does my decision have on the big picture?”
You might have an urgent issue that needs to get resolved right NOW! There might be a couple of options to choose from. How do you know which is the right one? You don’t, if you can’t see the big picture.
For example, if you need quick cash, and you might need to sell something from your stock portfolio to get the cash when you need it. Which stock do you sell, and what account do you sell it from? The answer is, “It depends.”
It depends on what impact there is to your tax picture and the impact to your long term financial plan.
Understanding the big picture is more than just a couple of charts presented in a nice binder. It’s about having a clear idea of how seemingly different aspects of your finances work, and knowing how your decisions impact them. It’s about understanding that there might be a lot of information you still need to gather before making the decision in the first place. And finally, after starting down that road, it’s about knowing when you’re staying on course, and when you might be veering off track.
That latter part is the most important thing. When you leave the office, you’re back to dealing with life. You have to balance the time you spend handling your finances with everything else that comes your way. A good financial planner has a clear understanding of what still needs to be done, and reaches out to gently remind you when you need it.
#2. Handling Routine Paperwork You Don’t Have Time For
One thing you don’t need reminding for is routine paperwork. All the great ideas captured in a financial plan are just that—great ideas. Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to implementing those ideas is the drudgery of paperwork:
Paperwork you might need to open and fund that Roth IRA you read about
Decisions you might need to consider when updating your estate planning documents
Pay stubs and other documents you might need to put together your mid-year tax projection
Your financial advisor isn’t going to start signing documents on your behalf (hopefully). However, they can make your life simpler by:
Helping you eliminate unnecessary paperwork
Doing the research into and knowing what paperwork you do need to sign and pay attention to
Organizing the paperwork in a manner that is easy to digest and easy to sign
This seems pretty routine and ordinary. However, most good advisors are adept at making this appear to be seamless. And many clients appreciate how much time they saved because the advisor did the heavy lifting. This frees you up for the things that really count, like making important decisions.
#3. Guiding You Through Decisions
Based upon a sample size of (at least 1), 100% of advisors would rather hear:
“I’m thinking of doing this, but I’d like to hear your thoughts before I do it.”
“I did this, but I think I made a mistake. Can you help me fix it?”
While I didn’t poll other advisors to get their opinion, no advisor wants to clean up a mess that could have been avoided, had the client asked their opinion in advance. First, there’s the additional work that might be involved. Second, some things just can’t be undone. Third, there’s a general feeling of, “If you’re not going to ask me for my advice, why are you paying me?”
The final part is a very valid question—on both sides of the relationship. If your advisor ever asks that question, then your relationship will probably go one of several directions:
They might ask you why you didn’t feel comfortable talking with them beforehand. If there’s a way to identify concerns you might’ve had, and address them, hopefully that’s the route they take.
If you made a decision that goes against a specific recommendation, they might say something. It might sound like, “We’re not able to give you our best advice if you go against our recommendations.” Depending on what is actually said, this could be considered a warning, or they might decide they can no longer work with you.
They might say nothing. For a while. After all, they’re being paid, even if you don’t take the advice. But you might notice that the extra effort they used to put into client service isn’t there anymore. At least for you. Then, eventually, you decide they’re not a good fit and decide not to work with them anymore. And that will be fine with them.
Conversely, there are times when the client is trying to talk with the advisor about major decisions, but they’re too busy. If that’s the case, you should ask the advisor to clarify:
What issues they consider to be emergent, versus routine
How they accommodate meetings or conversations about emergent versus routine matters
What they are competent and able to discuss
You might make your decision to retain or fire the advisor based upon their response. But you’ll at least have a clearer understanding of how the advisor handles client requests, in the case your experience was due to a misunderstanding. For example, something you think is emergent might be something the advisor believes can be addressed at the next appointment. But they should at least have a good explanation that leaves you feeling that they’ve got you covered. And for the areas where they don’t feel like the expert, they should be able to bring in experts to help you out.
#4. Bringing in Other Professionals As Part of Your Team
Your financial advisor probably isn’t going to be an expert in every question that you ask. But they should be able to reach out to peers, colleagues, and other professionals to ensure that your questions get answered.
Tax planning is a big area where we see the difference between advisors. Even if they’re not a tax expert, every financial advisor should be able to help you with tax planning. What this looks like to you—there’s a wide range of acceptable options.
Perhaps they will help you set up a tax planning appointment with your CPA and sit in. That way, they can make investment recommendations or give financial advice within that context. This could happen annually (at a minimum), or before a major decision (see #3, above).
The advisor might do the tax planning in house and include the tax discussion as part of a scheduled appointment.
Whatever the answer, your advisor should give you an option that doesn’t make you feel like the project manager for your finances. That’s their job—if they’re doing it correctly.
If you hear, “I don’t know how much you’ll pay in taxes, you’ll have to talk to your accountant,” then look for another advisor. Tax planning is becoming table stakes in the financial planning world, and you deserve better than that answer. Even worse is the advisor who makes recommendations that actually cause big tax events. That is simply unacceptable.
You can (and should) expect a similar level of service in estate planning, insurance planning, and virtually every other area of your finances. Your financial advisor isn’t going to draft estate documents for you or give you unlicensed insurance advice. However, they can help make it easier to get the advice you need from the professionals they have access to.
And when working with these professionals, your financial advisor should help you review their work as well.
#5. Providing a Second Set of Eyes
Whether it’s your tax return, a new insurance policy, or your estate planning documents, you should always be able to have your financial advisor give these documents a second look.
If nothing more, having a second set of eyes will at least identify questions you might want to ask before you put pen to paper. And in most cases, you can sign knowing that at least a professional set of eyes was helping you to look out for mistakes.
#6. Making Meetings More Convenient For You
If your advisor is scheduling meetings that force you to sit through traffic while they go through a canned speech about the latest investment reports…just know there’s something better. Sometimes, if you’re a higher-end client, you might be invited to meetings 4 times a year, while the ‘lower-end’ clients only have to sit through traffic once or twice. And what’s the point if you don’t get anything out of it that you couldn’t have read in a report.
Your advisor should:
Only schedule meetings that have specific topics of discussion. The advisor shouldn’t schedule a meeting, then turn around and ask you what you want to talk about.
Be flexible to schedule meetings if there is an emergent issue, event or situation you want to discuss.
Offer the opportunity to schedule meetings in advance, so you can plan around them.
Offer the opportunity to schedule remote or in-person meetings. Many advisors will offer meetings by phone or video teleconference.
The point is that your time is important. Keep in mind that this is a two-way street. An advisor who has a policy regarding no-shows, late canceled appointments is very clear about how their time is treated. That advisor will probably be flexible to your needs and respect your time in return.
#7. Always Acting In Your Best Interest
This shouldn’t have to be written down. It should be a safe assumption, much like the assumption isn’t going to prescribe medicine that will harm you. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For many reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, there are reasons why your financial advisor might not give you a recommendation that is in your best interest. Or the recommendation might be okay for you, but not the best one—usually because there is a bigger commission involved.
Many of these reasons are perfectly legal. In fact, it’s surprising what someone can recommend, as long as it is properly disclosed as a potential conflict of interest.
What’s not legal: Telling you they’re always acting in your best interest, then not giving you advice or recommendations that are in your best interest.
So how do you know? Ask them. Say, “Can you tell me, in plain English, in what situations you might have to give me advice that’s not in my best interest?” Specifically ask, “In which cases might you give me advice that puts your interests above mine?” Any answer other than, “No,” should send you running in the other direction. But ask them to back it up by putting it in writing.
There’s nothing wrong with asking your financial advisor if they hold your interests above their own. The only thing wrong is that we live in a world where that question has to be asked in the first place—protect yourself accordingly. If you don’t, you might end up spending a lot more time (and money) fixing any issues that your advisor caused.
Is your financial advisor NOT doing any of these? Most self-respecting advisors would consider these minimum requirements for a financial advisor. Ask them to start today. And if they don’t? Find someone who will help you take this work off your plate. Contact us today to set up a complimentary phone call so you can get started!