Your Money: Beyond the acronyms and fancy titles: What to look for in a financial planner
February 19, 2013
I am often asked for recommendations on financial planners. I am always very upfront that I am not a financial planner. However, it is a profession that I have a great deal of respect for and I believe that finding the right financial planner can have a very positive impact on a person’s future, both personally and financially.For starters, what qualifications should you look for? Unlike the accounting profession that only has a few designations, such as certified public accountant or registered tax preparer, there are over 200 different organizations who certify financial planners. With so much variety, it’s easy for everyone to have some initials after their name. I can attest to this, as I was once a certified estate advisor and served on the board of directors of the Association of Chartered Senior Financial Planners. While I’m not passing judgment on either organization, I will say that all I had to do was pay a fee and the name was mine! I have since dropped both designations because I wholeheartedly disagree with that fee-based, unaccountable system. I was basically a salesperson for their organizations, not a true professional.Of all the accreditations, there is one that I recommend looking for in a financial planner and that is the CFP, or certified financial planner. This seems to have the most stringent testing and continuing education requirements, and the ones I have met in my career tend to be the most professional and knowledgeable.More important than a financial planner’s initials is their personally and communication style. Perhaps the single most important factor in choosing a financial advisor is finding someone who is approachable and someone who you enjoy spending time with. If your financial planner intimidates you or talks down to you, are you really going to want to reach out to them when you need help?What about if you can never reach them, but only get their staff on the phone? If you’re comfortable sharing information with their staff, then it’s not a problem. But just like at the doctor’s office, sometimes it’s frustrating if you tell your story to the nurse, only to have to start over again with the doctor. Asking about the financial planner’s communication style is fair game in an interview. If you love email and texting and they insist on face-to-face meetings or phone calls, it just may not work out.And, perhaps most importantly, you should trust your gut instinct. With all the financial scams in recent years, if it seems too good to be true, start digging! Does the financial planner prepare his own monthly statements, or do the statements come from a third party? Are the returns in line with the market conditions, or are they out of line? At the end of the day, it’s your money and your future on the line, so don’t be shy in asking the hard questions. If they are insulted that you are questioning them too much, that may be the red flag you need to walk away. Michele Knight, owner of Knight Accounting & Technology, is a CPA and QuickBooks ProAdvisor based in Dillon. For more info and to contact her, visit http://www.cpamichele.com.