How To Tell If A Financial Advisor Is Good?

By admin | February 20, 2021
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Does your advisor look puzzled if you ask him the difference between a “capital gains tax” and an ordinary “income tax“?

What if you just want to pay him an hourly fee, like you do for your attorney, and implement his advice on your own?

Can you do that?

Finally, during your initial meeting, does he ask questions about ALL areas of your finances, or is he too busy looking for a point where his product is the end-all, be-all to fulfill all of your dreams?

True financial advisors are difficult to come by these days.

Many have knowledge of only a small part of the “financial puzzle,” and while it’s impossible for anyone to know every subject in-depth.

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I don’t believe expecting your advisor to know some basic facts on an important subject, such as taxes, and being mindful of them when guiding you is too much to ask.

What follows are three “checkpoints” that, while being far from a complete list, are at least a beginning to learn if you have a true advisor working for you.

#1 GENERAL KNOWLEDGE

Expecting your advisor to help you fill out a “Form 1120” for your C corporation is a tad unreasonable, but expecting him to be familiar with the tax implications of selling out of a particular investment is not only not unreasonable, but should be expected.

Unfortunately, many financial professionals carrying business cards that contain the word “advisor” as part of their title do not know much, or anything, outside of what the company they work for require.

Even sadder, these people don’t take it upon themselves to learn their area of expertise in detail or know adjacent subjects at all. While an “ignorance is bliss” mentality may be good for the company’s bottom line, it’s almost always bad for you.

General knowledge is easy to come by here in the information age, one can “Google” their subject matter, take a trip to the local library (in my area, Pittsburgh, the libraries are linked so somebody is more than likely to have the book or information you’re seeking), or even see if that topic is part of a continuing education course that almost all licenses and certifications require of their members.

Being an automaton that only knows how to “parrot” a financial services company’s talking points is probably not your best bet to hire as a financial advisor.

#2 COMPENSATION

Can you pay for just advice, or do you need to purchase a product for the advisor to be properly compensated? Hey, I’m all for people getting compensated for what they do for a living.

Besides, we all have to pay the bills, put food on the table, and provide for our families, it’s just that WHAT we do for a living should be straightforward.

If a financial service professional only sells life insurance, for example, which is NOT a dishonorable profession, but they don’t really have at least a general knowledge of investments, or tax, or banking, they SHOULDN’T list “advisor” as part of their title.

Calling themselves an insurance agent or broker is proper. Also, if your advisor’s company or firm will not allow them to acknowledge a fiduciary duty, then again, “advisor” is not a proper title.

That’s not to say that a true advisor can’t act as an insurance agent, tax preparer, as well as investment advisor. BUT, that advisor, by way of their fiduciary duty, should EXPLICITLY state, or even provide it in writing, when they are “taking off one hat and putting on a different one.”

A true advisor will have the ability to allow you to pay only for their advice on an hourly or flat fee basis, and implement that advice elsewhere if you so choose.

#3 PORTFOLIO CONSTRUCTION

Does your advisor ask you a bunch of targeted and relevant questions in areas such as insurance, investments, taxes, and banking?

Does your advisor express concern when you’re lacking in a particular area EVEN IF he or his company DOES NOT specialize or offer services in that area (property and casualty insurance comes to mind)?

In many instances, a potential client wants to invest in the volatile financial markets, but this client has no life or disability insurance or does have it but an inadequate amount.

This client might also lack an emergency fund of three to six months of cash in an FDIC or NCUA insured account.

A true advisor will discover this in his questioning and recommend that the potential client provides for his family in case of disaster before risking the chance of a significant loss (Heck, a term life insurance policy for the average person, is NOT that costly!)

If the person still wants to invest in the financial markets without taking steps to protect their family in the case of their untimely demise, the true advisor should either refuse to write the business or get a waiver signed by the client that they were told of the need for insurance or an emergency fund, but decided against it by their own choice.

There is no guarantee that the waiver will hold up in court or arbitration if you’re sued by that clients’ heirs because the client was killed in a car accident and the market crashed shortly afterward, but, hey, it’s better than having no acknowledgment, right?

As stated above, this is far from being a complete list, and you can’t even go completely by title as even some Investment Advisor Representatives have been known to push a particular third-party advisor, while a broker or agent without a fiduciary duty takes his time to know his clients and recommend appropriately.

No amount of legislation can prevent a person from doing harm if that is their intent.

Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) will always apply, but as illustrated, there are ways to know who is more than likely on your side and who isn’t.