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How to Pick the Right Financial Adviser for You

Answer these four questions to zero in on the best match

By Jack Waymire

Are all financial advisers the same? Absolutely not! There are huge ranges in their quality and services, which can create major financial risks for you.

Some people who call themselves financial advisers are not even financial advisers — they’re salespeople masquerading as advisers.

Selecting the right adviser is one of the most important financial decisions you’ll ever make. That’s because the wrong one can wreck your financial future.

Your selection process should start with your answers to four basic questions:

1. What financial services do I need?

2. Do I need advice or do I need sales recommendations?

3. How much do I have in investable assets?

4. Do I want face-to-face contact?

(MORE: Financial Advice You Can Trust)

Let’s take these one at a time, starting with: What financial services do I need? There are five main categories; make sure any adviser you hire provides all the ones you need. The categories are:

Planning Services Everyone needs a financial plan. It is the roadmap for achieving your money goals. There are four types: Financial, Retirement, College Saving and Estate.

Investment Services  If you have assets outside of employer-sponsored retirement plans, there is a good chance you’ll need investment advice that includes asset allocation, investment selection, investment performance reporting and other services.

Insurance Services Everyone needs insurance products to provide protection for various types of risk, such as death, disability, and long-term care.

Tax Services  Investing produces taxable events; you may need advice and services that help you minimize taxes.

Legal Services Everyone should have a will. More complex estates may require trusts and other legal documents to transfer assets to heirs while minimizing estate taxes.

(MORE: Will Retirement Advisers Start Putting You First?)


Next: Do I need advice or do I need recommendations? Most investors don’t realize there are two types of advisers based on their registration and licensing.

Real advisers are Registered Investment Advisers or Investment Adviser Representatives; these registrations permit them to provide financial advice in exchange for fees. The other type of “adviser” is really a salesperson. Here, licensing limits the person to making sales “recommendations” when selling investment products for commissions.

(MORE: Getting Your Money's Worth From an Adviser)

Next: How much do I have in investable assets? Advisers may have minimum asset requirements. For example, a less experienced adviser may have a minimum of $100,000 or less and a more experienced one may require $1 million or more.  You are wasting your time if your assets don’t meet the adviser’s minimum.

Minimum assets drive the minimum amount of money advisers are willing to work for. For example, a 1% adviser fee produces $1,000 of annual revenue for him or her on $100,000 of assets and $10,000 of revenue on $1 million.

And, finally: Do I want face-to-face contact? You have three communication choices when you select a financial adviser: traditional advisers, online advisers and robo advisers. All three types may provide similar investment services, but there are major differences in how they communicate with their clients.

Traditional advisers are willing to meet with you face-to-face at your location or their offices. These relationships tend to be more personal.

Online advisers may deliver the same services as traditional advisers, but communication with them is limited to phone, Internet and Skype. But they can work with clients anywhere in the U.S.

Robo advisers are firms with automated investment processes. There is little or no communication between you and humans at these firms. All  the information you need is online, in a password- protected account.

You should determine your communication requirements before choosing among the three types of advisers. Don’t let the advisers determine your requirements.

Jack Waymire spent 28 years in the financial services industry. He is the author of Who's Watching Your Money? and the founder of Paladin Research and Registry. Paladin provides free information and services that help investors select top-quality financial advisers. Follow Jack on Twitter @PaladinRegistry or connect with him on Google+. Read More
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