Updated: Oct 22, 2021
At some point in your life, you may seek out the advice of a professional financial advisor. Where do you even begin to find one?? Most people will ask a friend for a referral or they may succumb to one of the 1000's of advertisements they've seen on TV. Once you've found one, do you know what to ask? I googled the question "What should I ask my Financial Advisor?" Ironically, I saw all the same questions.
“Are you a fiduciary?"
"What is your investment philosophy?"
"How do you earn your fees?"
"How will we work together?"
"How long have you been in business?”
Don’t get me wrong, these are all good questions. But who wrote them? You guessed it, financial advisors. I call them lay-up questions. These are the questions the advisor WANTS you to ask!! Easy for them to articulate, and their answers make them look really good!
So here’s a list of questions I’ve compiled you should REALLY ask an advisor.
1. What are all the fees I am paying? Annually, in dollars – not percentages.
a. Direct fees
b. Indirect fees
2. Do you get paid even if I lose money?
3. Does your recommended stock allocation consistently beat the S&P 500 Index net of your fees?
4. Does your recommended bond allocation consistently beat the Aggregate Bond index net of your fees?
5. Is the retirement plan you designed for me guaranteed to work for my entire lifetime even if you are not there to manage it?
6. Will you provide me with a list of all the services I am paying for?
7. How will I get a notification detailing the work you’ve done, and time spent on my account each month? (Not including trade confirmations.)
8. How do you maximize my SSI?
9. Will I ever have to alter my lifestyle if the stock market goes down?
10. What are your specific strategies to prevent or reduce losses in my portfolio?
11. How dependent am I on the stock market to fund my retirement?
12. If we have two accounts, with two different values, would I pay more for the larger account for the same services?
13. If my portfolio was smaller, and I was charged less, would I receive the less services?
14. Can you guarantee me that your strategy and solution will work for the rest of my life?
15. As a fiduciary, when is it in my best interest to pay a commission instead of an ongoing fee?
A large investment firm recently called me to see if I would be interested in having them be my financial advisor. I asked the advisor these very questions. Hardly any of them were answered directly. They are uncomfortable questions. But aren’t these the questions that every investor/client should know? My motive behind this project was this, I want to see how an advisor is going to answer my questions in the future. Will they provides answers in a way that I can easily understand? How are they trying to make me feel? Will they deflect them? Be argumentative? Will they make me feel like I don’t “understand” the markets as well as they do? The way the advisors answers these questions today is most likely how they will answer your questions in the future. You will want to ask these uncomfortable questions because you don’t want to make a mistake. A mistake in investing is usually discovered much too late, and the time it takes to repair an investing mistake takes twice as long to fix it. If you’re wrong once in investing, you have to be right twice to get back on track. Meanwhile, while you wait, you are watching the markets and those that are making safe returns, pass you by. And remember this, if there is a mistake made in your portfolio, you are the one that will be affected. You are the one that might have to make a lifestyle change. You are the one that will lay awake at night. Your advisor will continue to get paid by your fees, even when you lose. So many aspects of investing are completely out of your and your advisor’s control. You must expect that if you put your money at risk in the stock market, you will lose at certain times. How do you feel about that? How does your advisor handle your losses? Investing is about emotion. Despite their best efforts and your advisor’s assertion that they are the beacon of light and calm when the financial waters become troubled, know this, that they have no more control over the sun, the moon, the stars or the stock market…than you do.