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Checklist: 7 questions every advisor should be able to answer

Whatever your priorities, this can help you find someone who understands you and has the resources to help you with your financial life


AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, WE ALL face major turning points in our lives — getting married, becoming a parent, receiving a life-changing promotion, getting ready to retire. At times like these, many people feel a need for financial help. They begin to question whether they know enough about the complex financial decisions they’ll have to make on their own — and start to wonder whether working with a financial advisor might make sense.


The challenge is finding someone you’ll feel comfortable talking to about the most personal things — your family, your money, your hopes for your future.

The challenge is finding someone you’ll feel comfortable talking to about the most personal things — your family, your money, your hopes for your future. Someone who’ll be there for you for years to come and who can provide more than just stock recommendations, but also focus on what’s in your best interest.


As you interview advisors who may be able to help you with those decisions, don’t be afraid to ask the following tough questions. They’ll help you get a clear idea of what you can expect if you move ahead with the relationship — and whether the person would be a good fit for you and your family.


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1. What types of clients do you work with?

Some advisors work primarily with business owners or members of a specific profession. Others might have particular knowledge in certain areas such as sustainable investing or retirement planning. Ask whether the advisor has experience or has access to team members or resources that could help you meet your specific needs.


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2. What is your track record?

No advisor can or should promise financial results. And beware of those who do. But an advisor with a record of long relationships may be more likely to provide the kind of service that earns client loyalty.


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3. What will our relationship be like — how often will we connect?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. An advisor should be committed to communicating with you in person, by phone or online — whatever your preference is — as often as you require. Every client has different needs and expectations. Don’t be shy. Be upfront about how frequently and by what means you would like to get together to discuss your finances. Some people prefer a more formal relationship with regularly scheduled meetings, while others might be more comfortable with a less structured, more relaxed approach. Make your personal preferences known from the outset. You can also get a sense of what the relationship will be like by gauging how interested the advisor is in learning what your goals are, what’s most important to you and what keeps you up at night.


A compass

4. How can you help me stay on track as I pursue my goals?

To have the potential to realize your goals, you have to define them first. Even if you have a pretty clear idea of what you want to accomplish with your money, the right advisor can help you better understand and prioritize how you might get there, including helping you recognize any trade-offs you may need to make based on your finances, time horizon, risk tolerance, cash flow needs and investing preferences. Life has a way of changing too — sometimes without notice — so the advisor you select should encourage you to check in whenever your situation changes so that you can discuss any course adjustments you might consider to help you stay on the right track.


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5. Can we discuss investment choices that align with my values and are appropriate for my situation?

The choices you make every day — from where you choose to eat to the companies you choose to invest in — can be a reflection of your deeply held beliefs. Your advisor should be able to suggest investments that take your values and best interests into account — whether your concerns are about the environment, social responsibility or corporate governance. These investments should also be vetted with the same rigor as other more traditional choices so they are aligned with your other investments.

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6. Will you call me if the markets are volatile?

When the markets get scary, there’s nothing worse than feeling isolated and alone. One of an advisor’s most vital functions is to reach out to you at such times, hear your concerns, offer perspective and talk about whether you should consider any adjustments to your financial strategy.


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7. How do I pay you for your work — and how much will it cost?

It’s never an easy question to ask, but advisors should always offer the information. Clarity about fees is vital to a client’s investment decisions and to a successful relationship. Fees and expenses — whether a percentage of assets or per transaction — should be considered in evaluating your financial situation and preferences.


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