Planning Ahead - June 25, 2008

What to know when choosing a financial advisor

Bob CondronJune 25, 2008 

• Bob Condron, CFP, MSFS, is a registered representative of Bridge Financial Partners and securities are offered through H.D. Vest Investment ServicesSM, a non-bank subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company. He can be reached by calling 548-8875 or sending an e-mail to bcondron@bridgefp.com

The insurance and investment professions have cornered the market on credentials. It seems almost odd to be handed a business card and not see a series of letters following a person's name.

Some professions have highly recognizable accreditations: "CPA", "JD" or "MD" all denote an expected level of professionalism and competence. Additionally, the designations help to identify the services which I would expect. I certainly would not ask a CPA to perform surgery nor would I ask a doctor to prepare my taxes.

When it comes to insurance and investments, the overabundance of credentials has served to add confusion rather than clarity when it comes to choosing an advisor. I checked the Internet for "professional investment designations" and saw more than 15 different credentials and even more for the insurance profession.

Suffice it to say that a designation, by itself, should not be the sole criteria when selecting your advisor.

Before working with a financial advisor you should know more about them than their name and credentials. You should discuss references, education, experience and proper licensing. It is important to know what services and products they can provide as well as their depth of knowledge in planning and application.

You should be informed if they represent a single company or are independent. You should ask how an individual is compensated.

Many people would benefit by reviewing their insurance and retirement planning needs with a qualified professional. After interviewing the adviser, the first meeting should be about discovery. Together you should discover what you want to accomplish, what resources you have available and what you have already done towards achieving those goals.

The second meeting would normally involve a review of the information obtained in the first meeting and the results you might expect with your current plan. Alternative solutions should be presented.

You and your advisor should discuss the merits and weakness of each plan and determine the best course of action.

If you set a third meeting, it will be to implement the changes, purchase insurance or otherwise commit to the relationship with the advisor. This will be an ongoing relationship with regular conversation to monitor the performance of your plan as well as the insurance and investments.

Your financial advisor needs to earn your trust. He or she should combine knowledge and experience. They should spend more time listening and asking questions than explaining a product. Buying an insurance policy or making an investment should be part of a process and not a single event.

In the end, the quality of your advisor will not be measured by how many designations they hold but how well they helped you achieve your goals. My father is a carpenter. He doesn't have a single designation but he is a master at his craft with years of experience. If you spoke to anyone who knows him, you would hear about his integrity and skill. If you talked to him, you would sense his compassion and trustworthiness.

In any profession, these are the qualities with which we should all be measured.

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