Before Picking a Financial Advisor, Ask the Right Questions

Before Picking a Financial Advisor, Ask the Right Questions The introduction of online stock trading has made it easier than ever for you to become a "do-it-yourself" investor. But just because you can do it doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

To achieve your long-term financial goals, you may need to work with a financial professional, someone who can analyze your needs, assess your risk tolerance, help you choose an appropriate mix of investments, and assist you in monitoring and adjusting your portfolio as your needs change over time.

Of course, there are a lot of financial advisors and investment professionals out there. How can you find one that's right for you? For starters, ask people you know whom they use. But that should only be your first step, because your situation may be quite different from that of your co-workers, friends and relatives. So, before you settle on someone to help you with your investments, ask him or her some pertinent questions.
Here are a few to consider:
  • Have you worked with other people like me? You have your own unique financial characteristics: amount of assets, level of income, stage of life, long-term goals, tolerance for risk. Before you sign up to work with an investment professional, make sure that they are comfortable working with someone like you.
  • What are your credentials? Inquire about an investment professional's qualifications. Make sure anyone you might work with has all the necessary securities licenses. On your own, find out if the firm they work for has a good, solid reputation in the financial services industry.
  • Do you have a particular investment philosophy? Just like investors, investment professionals have different investment personalities. Some might favor a more aggressive approach, while others are conservative. But the right financial professional for you is someone who will provide guidance that's based on your risk tolerance and investment preferences. Nonetheless, you need to find out if your potential advisor has any biases that may affect his or her recommendations.
  • How do you communicate with clients ? Make sure that your financial advisor will communicate regularly with you.
    Find out when you'll receive statements and how often you'll meet in person to review your portfolio.

    Will you receive e-mails with suggestions and recommendations?
    Are you free to contact your advisor at any time?
    If the advisor is not available, is there someone else they work with who will be familiar with your situation?

    Find these things out as soon as possible. Remember, you're entrusting this person with your financial future, so you have a right to expect open, honest and frequent communication.
  • What sort of resources do you have? Find out if a prospective investment professional has access to high-quality research and technical expertise in key areas, for example, investments, insurance and estate planning. In some cases, a financial advisor may be able to bring in added expertise through a relationship with another professional, such as an attorney or accountant.
  • How do you get paid? Investment professionals get paid in a variety of ways: fees, commissions, percentage of assets under management or even a combination of these. One method isn't intrinsically better than another, but it may be more appropriate for your needs. In any case, you need to be absolutely clear, right from the start, how your financial advisor is getting compensated.
  • Can you give me some references? Many investors are reluctant to ask financial advisors for references. However, a reputable financial professional will be perfectly willing to give you some names of people you can call. Of course, you can't expect a broker to provide you with the specifics of other clients financial transactions, but you should be free to ask about a broker's style, responsiveness, etc.
Once you've gotten your answers to these questions, you should have a good idea of what you can expect from a prospective financial advisor. Then, once you're comfortable with someone, get moving quickly on establishing and implementing your financial and investment strategies. The sooner you get to work, the faster the progress you'll make toward your important long-term objectives.

Piper Jaffray & Co. Member SIPC and NYSE.

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