In the latest Investor Trust Study from CFA Institute and Edelman, only a little more than half of respondents said they “trust investment firms to do what is right” when it comes to managing their money.
In fact, twice as many investors (35 percent) say they care about finding a firm that is looking out for their clients’ best interests than a firm with high returns (17 percent). Fees were even less likely to sway investors, the report finds.
If people are trying to send the investment industry a message, we hope it’s been received. It will (and should) take a lot more than market returns to convince investors to put their faith in a financial firm.
So, how do you know you’ve found an adviser who has your best interests at heart?
First off, we’re not denying that returns matter when it comes to investing for your future (why else would you bother, right?). But finding a financial planner who works in your best interest should be first and foremost on your list of qualifications. Remember, you’ll likely be working with this person for decades to come.
Once you’ve decided that finding a financial planner is in your best interest, it pays to start with recommendations from family and friends. If you know another person you trust has a had a positive experience, you’re already one step closer.
Your planner isn’t just there to crunch the numbers, says Samantha Vient, CFP, of LearnVest Planning Services. “She’s helping you make a plan for your money and your life. You should be looking for someone who has similar values to you.”
From there, let the vetting process begin. Make sure he or she is properly certified (not all certified planners are created equally) to dole out the kind of advice you need. Then do a little snooping to be sure they don’t have a bad record.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) BrokerCheck will turn up any past transgressions. Vient suggests finding a planner who is in a similar life stage as yourself, as they’ll be able to personally identify with your financial concerns today and how they will change tomorrow. Similarly, it may help to find a planner who also works with clientele in your particular demographic as well.
Next, you’ve got to be willing to ask them just as many questions as they ask you.
Here are a few Vient suggests:
Do you think it’s more important to save for retirement or pay off debt? How do you feel about supporting kids through college? How do you mitigate investment risk as your clients get older?
The latter question is probably the most important of all. You need a planner who will grow along with you, helping you adjust your investments as your risk tolerance ebbs and flows with age.
And of course, you need to pick a planner you can afford. Some charge upfront fees or retainers, while others work solely off commissions they earn by selling clients on certain investment products. If you don’t see their fee structure listed on their website, make that first on your list of questions.
Many experts recommend seeking out a fee-only planner for a simple reason: They charge a flat fee for services in advance and are under fiduciary duty to work toward your best interests. The only catch is that they aren’t able to advise people who are interested in annuities, life insurance or disability insurance.
To find one, check out the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).