Choosing a Financial Advisor

9 important questions to ask when deciding which personal finance advisor to hire for your business

Smart business owners are always looking for sound financial advice--informed entrepreneurs recognize the value of the advice they can get from a trusted financial advisor. Working with an advisor is a smart move because they can help you set financial goals and take the necessary steps to accomplish them.

From helping you set up employee and employer retirement benefits and accounts to developing cash management strategies, an advisor can help you achieve financial success in a world where many business owners are "financially lost."

But there are hundreds of financial experts in the market who are ready and willing to manage your money and investments for you--how do you find one you can trust? When it comes to financial planning, finding the right fit is really your first and most essential step. Here are 9 areas you'll want to investigate to find the right financial advisor for your business's needs.

Referrals & Recommendations
In order to track down a reputable advisor, ask your family, friends and work colleagues if they have any suggestions--then follow-up with their recommendations. Another source to ask would be your CPA or attorney. These professionals regularly work with financial advisors and can typically offer strong referrals. Recommendations can help you develop a sense of what kind of value these candidates provide, as well as their work style and client satisfaction levels.

During your research, it's a good idea to look for advisors with professional training. Many professionals will use the term "Financial Planner" or "Certified Financial Planner Professional." Ask what makes them qualified to practice. In addition, finding someone with at least five years of experience helping business owners and individuals in your industry and community is an important quality. Researching their background thoroughly will make you more comfortable giving them your money.

At the initial meeting with your potential future advisor, find out how long the planner's been in practice as well as the number and types of individuals and companies with which he or she has been associated. Also ask the planner to briefly describe his or her work experience. Asking how much experience they have in financial consulting isn't insulting, and a reputable planner will usually provide you with the necessary information.

Services Offered
Not all financial planners offer the same services. Usually, the services they offer depend on their credentials, licenses and areas of expertise. Financial planners generally can't sell insurance or securities on products such as mutual funds or stocks without certain licenses. They also can't give financial advice unless registered with state or federal authorities.

Make sure you ask your prospective planner about the type of client and financial situations he or she typically likes to work with. Some financial planners will develop one plan by assessing all your financial goals, while others will be more specific. You need to feel comfortable with your financial planner's approach--whether it's conservative or aggressive. You'll also want to determine if the planner will carry out the financial recommendations developed for you or refer you to others who will do so.

Team Players
It's important to determine just who your contact at the firm will be. Will you be working only with one primary advisor, or will multiple people be working on your account? If the consultant works with professionals outside the practice, such as attorneys or estate planners, it's important to check their backgrounds as well.

Costs for Payments and Services
The fees will depend on your particular needs. However, the planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be done. Ask whether the fees will be based on the planner's hourly rates, a flat fee or a percentage they'll receive as a commission. The financial planner should spell out for you in writing how they'll be paid for the services they'll provide.

Public Disciplining
There are several government and professional regulatory organizations, such as the National Association of Securities Dealers, your state insurance and securities departments and CEP Board, that keep records of the disciplinary history of financial advisors and planners. Contact these groups, and have them perform a background check on your potential advisor or planner.

J. Graydon Coghlan is the president of Coghlan Financial Group LLC, a financial planning firm that has been working with the people and businesses of San Diego on retirement and other financial planning issues since 1992. They specialize in financial planning, retirement and estate planning, risk management, portfolio design, asset management services and financial goal integration.

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