How to Find the Right Financial Planner – For You

There are seven vital questions to ask a financial planner and one big question for you

How do you find a financial planner that is just right for you? There is little doubt that most people can benefit from good advice. These eight questions act as a great checklist to help you find the right adviser.

The seven questions are:

1. What are your qualifications and experience?

All planners need to be suitably qualified to provide personal advice. They should readily provide their qualifications upon request.

Currently there aren’t many qualifications required to be registered as an authorised financial planner. Therefore, to get a real sense to their standard of education you can also ask:

Do you have a finance degree?
What did you study last at college/university?
What training and studies do you currently undertake?
Qualifications are one thing, but you also want to know about their experience. Key questions include:

Describe your typical client?

How long have you been working as planner?
What have you learned most since becoming a financial planner?
If a summary of your skills, values and financial planning beliefs were to appear in tomorrow’s business pages, what would be written?
These questions are simple conversation starters. However, they play a pivotal role in establishing a real sense of who they are and what they do as a financial planner.

2. What is the structure of the company employing the financial planner?

Most planners work for small companies that are operated by the senior financial planner. You’ll want to know if the financial planning company is capable of managing your affairs both for now and in the long term. Key questions to ask:

How long has the company been in operation?
Does it have any outstanding issues such as unresolved client complaints?
How long has the core staff been at the company?
What will happen when the current company owner(s) exit the business e.g. at retirement?
Is the business linked to a major institution and if so, does this create any conflicts?
Investing for the long term may well be investing beyond the working life of the financial planner. You need to be confident that you will be taken care of when things inevitably change. If the company is linked to a major institution, you need to consider if this will create bias in the advice from the financial planner. However, for many investors being linked to a major institution does provide some level of security.

3. What are the benefits for the financial planner by working at this company?

Simply ask – What are the benefits for you working at this company?

They should be able to articulate their answer quite easily. In their answer, you are looking for benefits that find their way back to you as the client. For example, if they say ‘The company provides great facilities and support that allows me the freedom to focus on the client’, that is a good start.

If they are struggling and just rambling on, this would obviously not be a good sign! Worse still, if they say ‘That the company pays the best bonuses in town’, it’s time to move on to the next financial planner.

4. What are the disadvantages for working at this company?

Simply ask: What are the disadvantages of working at this company?

Now this is a tough one, everyone finds it easy to talk about the good but we all know there must be some bad! You are looking for honesty in their answer. If they are honest they will highlight a couple of things such as a restricted range of investments, lack of on-line presence etc.

If they say ‘The business is too strict on its auditing and compliance’, this should start ringing the warning bells. A good financial planner should not be afraid of good compliance procedures and ultimately good compliance is there to protect you as the client.

5. What client experience will be delivered?

Now we’re getting to the nitty gritty. This is why you are sitting in front of this financial planner. You want to know the WIIFM factor (What’s In It For Me). After all you are the one paying the fees and you want a return for your investment in this financial planner.

Just ask: What is the client experience delivered by you and the company?

If the financial planner replies ‘It is all about the exceptional investment returns that I get for my clients’, it could be a good time to leave the office. A financial planner selling future returns is normally selling false hope for all concerned.

You want the planner to highlight that the experience delivered is ‘all about caring for you as their client’. They will be there to help, assist, facilitate, guide and carefully invest your investment funds. You also want them to act like a good general practitioner (the local doctor), by engaging specialists to assist with all aspects of your finances.

A financial adviser that really cares for you will be more cautious and understanding of your situation. They will take responsibility for their actions and work in your best interests.

6. What fees will be charged for the services provided?

You need to know the fees no matter how much they may care for you.

Ask: Can you give me a schedule of fees for the services that you will provide?

The financial planner should also be able to provide the scope of their advice (what they are/are not advising on).

It is important to understand that fees tied to your investment account can eat into your investment returns and of course, you won’t get quality advice and service for free either. Your goal is to fully understand the fees and what you get in return for these fees. This way you can compare financial planners and make an informed decision as to which one is suitable for you.

7. What if something goes wrong?

You need to ask: If something goes wrong and I need to complain, how do I do that?

What have been the company’s experience for complaints over the past couple of years?
Have there been any long running complaints and if so why?
You should be getting a flavour of what really happened with the client complaints. If they stumble on their response, treat it as a warning.

1. The big question for you – Can I work with this financial planner?

The emphasis of this question for you, is to determine if the financial planner is the right fit for you and, are you the right fit for them. You should see your relationship as a two way arrangement. You will need to be very open and honest with the financial planner to enable he/she to deliver the best advice and service.

They don’t need to be your best friend. An error many people make when seeking a financial planner is to select the ‘friendliest’ person that they meet, without judging their ability to deliver the right service.

While you don’t have to like the person, you do need to be able to trust them. Like all good relationships in life, trust will be critical for the relationship to be a success.

If you follow the questions, take notes and consider a n

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How Financial Planners Can Use Words to Reach, Persuade and Connect

A few weeks ago I attended a free evening marketing class led by three local business coaches. Each owns a coaching franchise and are part of a global coaching organization.

The information was confusing, the slides were dated and almost unreadable. The graphs and charts redefined ugly. The audience in the room looked remarkably similar to the slumping bodies I used to sit next to in my Art History survey classes, back in my college days. We were all bored silly.

Then, business coach “T”, announced, “We’re not advancing any new ideas here.”

That woke me up like a bucket of ice water over my head. None? Really?

I was struck by these two facts. No new ideas. And, a global organization unable to clearly and effectively communicate relevant, important, and yes, new, information to its audience. They weren’t connecting. Not a whiff of inspiration, either.

I’m a freelance copywriter and I work with a few financial planners. I am skittish around money matters myself and I’m fascinated by the challenge that financial planners have in persuading people to take care of business. All this led me to a thought experiment.

Take the same scenario described above, but replace the coaches with financial planners. They are facing a roomful of relatively well-off couples and individuals. A perfect audience – ready and willing to absorb and act on what they see and hear.

Sadly, much like our business coaches, our financial planners deliver a confusing, uninspiring, and forgettable presentation. Not one person signs up for anything, for the very obvious reason that their money and their futures are at stake.

As a Financial Planner, Your Website Is Your Presentation

As a financial planner, you are intimately involved with peoples money and money, as we know, is a loaded topic. Anyone who is serious and passionate about helping people with their finances, simply cannot afford to deliver a poor presentation.

So what to do? How do you improve your presentation? What should you say and how should you say it? I’ve put together a few thoughts, specifically about the words you use to reach and connect with customers.

Take a Customer-Focused Approach

The words you use on your site communicate to the visitor what your focus is. If your home page blasts a 72 point headline that says, “We’re the No. 1 Financial Planning Firm in the Entire Western U.S. then it is very clear where your focus is. It’s on yourself and your amazing Number One-ness.

In this instance, you are “marketing” to people which means you are not having a conversation with them. And all marketing is conversation. And not to put too fine a point on it, but who cares if you are No. 1? What does that have to do with me and my problems and concerns about money?

I can almost guarantee you this: The most important people in your life are not shouting, “I’m No. 1!”

The Gobbledygook Manifesto

A customer-focused approach goes a little deeper than a boastful headline of course. A customer-focused approach avoids what David Meerman Scott calls, “gobbledygook.” In the Gobbledygook Manifesto, Scott identifies meaningless phrases like “cutting-edge” “market leading” or my personal favorite, “solutions.” There are dozens of these words clogging up websites – finance related and otherwise – the world over.

Scott has said gobbledygook is a problem because these words have lost their meaning. He’s mostly right about that.

But I think it’s more than that. Gobbledygook is a problem because:

a) it leads with your language and your point of view instead of your customers language and point of view and
b) it puts a wall between you and your visitor.

Instead of bringing you closer to your customer, meaningless, empty phrases create distance. And distance does not build trust.

To illustrate, let’s say you and I meet at a dinner party. I ask you what you do for a living. You say, “Bay State Financial is a leading provider of wealth planning solutions for high net worth individuals.” That’s not much of a conversation starter is it?

But what if you said, “I do wealth planning. I help people like you make good decisions about your money so you can keep more of it and grow what you already have.”

That first voice is a deadly marketing voice. The second is a human voice and a human voice is the one that connects. It’s that voice, true and authentic, that signals a customer focused mindset. It is that voice you need to get onto your website.

Educate, Inform, and Be Absolutely Clear

Financial planning sites have the potential to veer off into highly technical language. There is peril and opportunity attached to this reality.

The peril comes by simply presenting – without explanation – words or terms that you understand and work with everyday, while assuming that everyone else knows what they are. Worse yet, in money matters, people are often embarrassed to admit what they don’t know.

The opportunity arises this way. If you present a glossary of financial terms, it helps by giving people an easy way to gain knowledge at their own pace in their own way.

However, the real opportunity here is to go beyond the basic glossary idea by avoiding “money speak” in order to have a real conversation around these definitions. Make that glossary customer centric and not something out the Financial Planners Glossary of Terms to Confuse the Uninitiated.

Here’s an example of what I mean. These two examples define, in different ways, a 401(k) account.

Example 1.
“401(k) accounts: a plan that allows an employee to save for retirement by having a portion of his or her wages paid directly into a 401(k) account that is administered by the employer. These deposits are tax-deferred, meaning tax is not due on these earnings until they are withdrawn. The employee can select from an assortment of mutual funds and many companies also offer the option of purchasing company stock.”

Example 2.
“401(k) accounts: A 401(k) plan is one of the easiest ways for you to save more of your money for retirement. It works like this. Through your employer, you simply sign up for participation. This usually happens through your HR department. You can then decide how much you’d like to save. (There are limits to how much you can divert into your 401(k) and your HR department will have that information.)

Your account is administered by your employer, but they are not in control of the funds. You are. You will typically have some choices in how you invest this money – usually in the form of mutual funds or stock in the company where you work. In most cases, when you sign up for a 401(k) account you’ll receive a packet of information that will help you to understand how this all works. Be sure to read it over carefully.

It’s important to know a couple of things about a 401(k) account. The money that you divert into your 401(k) is not taxed. It’s tax deferred, meaning that it is only taxed when you withdraw it, at retirement. Again, read your packet of information.

It’s also important to know that a 401(k) is not a savings vehicle. It’s specifically for retirement. You can’t withdraw the money before retirement without paying a stiff penalty fee.”

I’ll admit, No. 2 is a lot longer than example No. 1, but which one do you think has a better chance of actually connecting with someone? Which sounds more like a real human being explaining the concept of the 401(k) to another human being?

It’s incredibly important to bring simple, straightforward clarity to your customers and prospects because it demonstrates that you have thought about and respect their need for information without always trying to sell them something.

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When You Need a Financial Planner

f you tend to handle your money well, you are likely good at planning your finances. You might not think you have any reason to hire someone to help you. If you suddenly had a much larger quantity of money to handle or a much smaller amount to allocate, you might decide that you need a financial planner.

If you ever realize that a financial planner is what you need to stay on top of your finances or get back on your feet, you will want to find one that has characteristics that make a good professional in this field.

The major consideration to look for is whether he or she is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). If they are not, it is almost like going to a doctor that has never gone to medical school. Whereas with the doctor it is your health you are putting into unstable hands, in the case of uncertified individual, it is your money being put into the wrong hands. Before hiring someone to help with your finances, make sure that they are certified.

It is also wise to go to an independent company. By doing this, you will not need to worry about the advisor having an agenda that does not help your cause. They will not try to sell you anything based on who they work with. Everything they do will be to help you as the client.

It is also important that the firm you hire use a method of comprehensive planning. This means that the firm you choose will help you in every area of your finances. Rather than looking at one problem area, they should consider every financial aspect of your life and help you to manage it. This might feel like an interference in your privacy. If you feel this way, you will want to make sure that the firm you choose is willing to protect your privacy and only look into those areas that you are comfortable with.

There are 3 more basic areas that should be in every business. Make sure that the firm you hire offers rates that you can work with and are not a great deal higher or lower than their competition. Also, make sure that they have good customer service and a level of professionalism.

Once you consider these areas, you should be able to find a professional in finance planning that will meet your needs.

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