There comes a time when we reach an inflection point. Maybe it’s a milestone birthday, a new baby in the house, an empty house when the last child goes to college, a divorce, a remarriage, or even the death of a beloved family member or dear friend that prompts the realization that having professional financial advice would be invaluable.
However, many people don’t take the next logical step for a variety of reasons:
- They don’t know how to find a competent and capable counselor.
- They fear they have waited too long to begin their financial planning.
- They are embarrassed because they don’t understand financial terminology.
These fears are well founded. Luckily, because they’re so common, financial advisors will do everything they can to make you feel comfortable from the first meeting. The first meeting is really a conversation to determine if you are compatible with the advisor and for the advisor to clearly understand where you are today and where you want to go financially.
Find an advisor you like
While the recommendations you ultimately receive are important, finding an advisor you like and trust is paramount. When an advisor asks you insightful questions and truly listens to your needs, your confidence in implementing their recommendations skyrockets. Advisors also recognize that there are specific money behavior styles and may ask you to complete a profile to determine the compatibility of your individual styles. This is especially important if you have a spouse or partner involved, so that all partners feel heard and respected.
The easiest way to learn more about advisors in your area is to ask your friends to recommend theirs. You can also ask your other trusted advisors, such as your CPA or attorney, for recommendations. Feel free to interview each advisor before choosing to see if there is the appropriate professional chemistry. And don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel even slightly uncomfortable around them.
The timing and agenda of the first meeting will vary by advisor. Some counselors want to deepen the conversation about your goals, fears, and concerns and give you plenty of time to ask questions. Usually, this meeting is scheduled for about an hour. Others will schedule a longer initial meeting with the goal of moving forward immediately if you agree with their investment style and philosophy. There is no right or wrong approach; it all depends on the trading preferences of the advisor. However, if you do not feel compatible with the advisor, you are not obliged to continue the meeting for the whole period.
Most advisors will meet at their office. Video calls, such as Zoom, are becoming more common for additional meetings, but the first meeting is important to do in person so you can assess chemistry and the counselor can observe your body language. The latter is important because you may not yet have the confidence to talk about sensitive topics that can impact the overall success of your planning. The shrewd advisor can ask more questions or just take note to come back to as your relationship with them develops.
It is important to bring your spouse or partner to this meeting if the planning involves them. At the office, staff will likely direct you and others to a conference room and offer you a drink to enjoy before the counselor arrives. Also note how welcoming the staff is to you, as you’ll likely be working with the entire firm, not just your advisor.
If you work with a Registered Investment Advisor or RIA company, the company is also required to give you a package of documents detailing the fees you will pay and the services you will receive for those fees. If you don’t understand the fee structure, good advisors will encourage you to speak up and ask questions. The documents will also cover a variety of topics such as conflicts of interest, cybersecurity and succession planning. It is important to read it completely.
Worried about starting planning too late
As the greetings end and the initial exchange of documents begins, people often become nervous about where they are starting from. Rarely do people start their financial plans exactly when it’s optimal. Planning for the future is a big project; professional and family needs are relentless. However, this is one of the most immediate values a planner can bring to the table – helping you get started and holding you accountable for your actions.
First, the advisor will ask you a lot of questions about the steps you have taken and where you want to go. By necessity, these questions are personal and can seem intrusive. Do not hesitate to ask why they are important for the conversation. Here are examples of typical questions: “What is most important to you?” “Do you want to pay for your child’s entire college experience?” or “How do you envision your retirement years?” A shrewd planner will sometimes dive deeper, which is why it’s essential to trust them early.
All of these documents will help the planner give you an overview of your personal starting point, including:
- Balance statement – Determines your net worth, which is the difference between all the assets you own and those you still owe. It will also help the advisor understand the liquid assets currently available to invest in achieving your goals.
- Cash flow statement – Defines exactly how much you take home each month and how it is spent or saved. A cash flow statement is important because it will help you determine how much you can safely spend while investing to achieve your goals.
Additionally, your planner will need to understand your risk tolerance for various types of investments. Some people are ultra conservative, while others have the stomach for taking big risks. Therefore, you will be asked to answer a short series of questions to help clarify your risk profile.
Financial literacy is not required
There is a lot of jargon in the financial industry, as well as words that are commonly used but not always well understood by people. When you’ve had the courage to step up and start achieving your goals, it’s important to continually ask questions about anything that isn’t clearly explained to you – until you’re sure you understand the subject. Relationship-focused counselors are comfortable explaining a concept more than once and asking you to repeat it to them, in your own words, to confirm clarity. It’s about your money, your goals, and your decision to follow any recommendations the advisor might give you.
Closing of the meeting
At the end of the first meeting, you should walk away with an understanding of your current A-point, clarity around your B-point, and most importantly, whether you are confident in the advisor’s knowledge, experience, and demeanor. You should have a good idea of whether this advisor is right for you and your needs. If you choose to move on to a second meeting, the counselor will usually tell you what to expect next. Best of all, you’ll feel confident that you have the tools to make informed decisions with your partner on this journey.