Questions to Ask When Selecting an Advisor

Maple tree with fall leaves in a park

I've read a lot of articles about how someone might approach the process of finding the "right" financial advisor.  They usually focus on meeting with an advisor an asking about his or her credentials, experience, investment approach, and fee structure. Those are certainly important questions, of course, but they ultimately miss the mark when it comes to finding the "right" advisor.  

Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to grow my wealth management practice through referrals from existing clients. A good referral, though, represents more than just a growth opportunity for my firm.  It serves as a reflection of a satisfied client. As such, I approach each prospective client meeting with great care and consideration—both for that possible client, as well as out of respect and gratitude toward the referring client. Inevitably, however, I'm not always a good fit for each referral that comes my way. The financial advisor/client relationship is unique in so many ways that other types of expert/client relationships are not. When it comes to money, it's personal. Clients share intimate details about their financial hopes and dreams, but they may also share things that they might not share with even their closest confidants, such as fears that may keep them up at night, extended family members whom they wouldn't want to inherited their wealth, shame about what they perceive to be a lack of having saved "enough," or even health issues that need consideration when planning. Sure, wealth planning requires technical expertise. I don't build financial road maps based on emotion, and my client invesmtent plans are driven by quantitative analysis. But a sound wealth management relationship intersects emotional, physical, and financial health. Those components are often less intertwined when, say, choosing a doctor or lawyer, in which case education, experience, and technical know-how are often the sole considerations.  

When I meet with prospective clients, I usually begin with an overview of Tilton Wealth Management—our staff, our relationship with Commonwealth Financial Network®, our holistic wealth planning approach, and our disciplined investment process. I answer questions about my experience, my credentials, and our fee structure. But the truth is that all of that information is easily accessible with a few clicks through our website (though I suppose there's some value in hearing it directly from me). The true value begins to take form when the "real" conversation begins. The concept of active listening is a good advisor's most important skill. Being present with a prospective client is crucial to understanding who they are and what they need from the wealth planning process. The human element is something that no robo-advisor or lazy listener can replace. So I ask questions. I ask a lot of questions. The bulk of most initial consultations are not spent talking about our "Core-Tactical" investment process, or what my thoughts are on the capital markets or global economic landscape. Instead, we talk about each other. I get to know as much about prospective clients as I can, and I am mindful to diligently answer their questions about who I am. In my opinion, transparency is the foundation on which all great financial roadmaps are built.  

Again, though, I still may not be the right fit for everyone. There are myriad financial advisors with tremendous skillsets—many are my close, personal friends whom I greatly admire. Though our areas of expertise may differ, any truly competent advisor can utilize the resources at their disposal to prudently advise their clients in all facets of their financial life. So it's not an advisor's technical expertise that matters most. What makes one advisor different from the next is in their ability to connect with each individual client. In that sense, there's no right or wrong, or better or worse, per se. It's personal for each client. Skilled, experienced, honest financial advisors can be readily found. Close friends and family offer a great starting point for identifying such advisors. But more work is needed to be done to narrow the list of financial advisor candidates down to the "right" one. I recommend that a prospective client ask a lot of questions of the advisor, share as much as possible about their financial life, and most importantly, ask themselves three very important questions:  

  1. Does this advisor understand who I am?  
  2. Do they really care about me and my family?  
  3. Is this someone I want to meet with each year for decades to come?  

In the end, the answers to these questions are the ones that truly matter. That's how one finds the "right" financial advisor.