Written by Gideon Drucker, CFP®
Once you've decided you are ready to take control of your financial future and work with a financial professional, it can be a daunting task to find the right match. Even more so if you're a HENRY (high earner, not rich yet) and you are just getting started. Many advisors will have a required minimum amount of assets to entertain a first meeting. While you may not have a ton of accumulated assets to invest immediately, that is 100% ok! Don't let that deter you from your search, there is an advisor out there for you!
Here are a few key aspects to consider when looking for an advisor:
A starting point—a mere invite to the dance, so to speak—is evidence of a continued pursuit of knowledge in the various areas that are encompassed by financial planning like retirement planning, education planning, cash flow management, etc. It’s important that the advisors you’re looking at have specific certifications, such as the CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®, and RICP®, to name but a few.
Possessing these certifications alone certainly doesn’t make an advisor the smartest person in the world, but it does show that he or she has gone a bit further down the educational path than others have. It shows a commitment to the craft as well as an understanding on their part that being an advisor is not just a passing phase, but, rather, their calling. Just based on my own experience, if an advisor has gone the extra mile in getting these designations, it is far more likely that they will still be working with you and growing with you five and ten years down the road. They won’t be working at an investment bank or have decided to become an accountant. I say that because these designations and the continuing education required to keep using the letters require a lot of time, money, and personal sacrifice. You should only be ready to commit to an advisor who is committing themselves completely to what they do!
Youth & Experience
Most likely, you are not just looking for help over the next few years, but for the next decade plus, so it’s important to know that your advisor is going to be there with you every step of the way while staying as committed as you are to the process.
Here’s a true story: a friend of mine who had been working with a family friend since before we met recently asked for us to take over his planning because the family friend had recently quit being an advisor in order to become a high school basketball coach. While I wish the new coach the best and personally hope he becomes the next Bob Knight, you probably want to find an advisor who is in it for the long haul!
When I’m sitting across from my own H.E.N.R.Y. clients and showing them important ways to save for their first home, or discussing the importance of life insurance after they get married, etc., they know that these aren’t abstract ideas to me. I am thinking about these very same issues and planning areas in my own life—which goes a long way!
While I believe having an advisor who you can relate to is important, I also know how crucial it is for that advisor to be a part of a team with older, more accomplished and credentialed advisors who have been down the path we’re walking and know the way. On our team, for example, while I personally meet with all of my clients, all of the planning we do together goes through our Director of Wealth Management, Kitty Ritchie, and our senior advisor and President, Lance Drucker. Collectively, they have over fifty years of experience in connecting and guiding clients.
Having sat down with thousands of people over such a longtime frame, Kitty and Lance have a truly unique perspective when listening to a new client. They’ve seen firsthand all sorts of situations that can arise in a client’s life. They’ve personally seen the ramifications for clients who get too emotional and move money out of their 401(k) and wait a decade to get back in. They’ve seen the consequences for young families that refused to acquire additional protection. These stories and anecdotes become the armor and shield for clients today and tomorrow to avoid living through the same thing.
Being a fiduciary simply means that your advisor has to put the client’s interests ahead of their own in all of their actions and recommendations. They can’t do things for clients that are merely “suitable” or “acceptable,” which is the standard that non-fiduciaries are held to; it must be in your “best interest.” As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a big deal!
To me, being a fiduciary is similar to the educational requirements that you should be looking for, in that it’s a mere invite to the dance. Not everyone who is a fiduciary will be a great advisor, but all great advisors should be fiduciaries. As with most things, the more complicated an advisor’s fee structure and the more convoluted it is to explain, the less transparent the client-advisor relationship will likely be over time. I can only speak to my experience as an advisor, but when a soon-to-be client asks us how we get paid, they receive a clear and direct answer. We’re not trying to obfuscate our fees or sugarcoat them. In fact, we’re proud to explain our fee structure because we’re confident in the value that all of our clients are going to receive when they commit to our process.
I believe it is the single most important factor in determining whom one should hire as a financial advisor. Quite simply, you have to have trust in your advisor. You have to know that they genuinely have your best interests at heart and that they really are committed to and aligned with helping your family achieve its goals. Without having this belief that everything your advisor is doing is coming from the right place, honestly, nothing else even matters…because without that trust, that advisor won’t be able to do everything they need to for your family.
Before you can trust someone, you have to like them. You don’t need to be best friends (though I think the relationship will be much stronger if you are close), but there needs to be some connection there, some personal bond that draws you together. This advisor is going to be an important part of your life. They will know some of your innermost goals, passions, dreams, and fears—and furthermore, they will be one of the most instrumental people in guiding you to and through fulfilling them. There should be a warm, positive feeling when you meet, and while this probably won’t happen in a first meeting, getting an idea if this is someone you like and feel good around is important for the long-term health of the relationship.
So there you have it. A starting point to begin your search for an advisor. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it to this point and get excited for what's to come once you actually begin the planning process!