A new relationship with a financial advisor has a lot of potential; it could help your financial life, save you stress, and accomplish your goals.
The planning process usually starts with a series of meetings to clarify your goals, create a picture of your existing situation, lay out a plan, and implement it. After that, you may get into a pattern of regular checkups or meet when there are major events.
Here are a few tips to consider as you get ready for your initial meetings with a new financial advisor so you can get what you want out of the process.
1. Know the ground rules
Your relationship with your advisor should be straightforward and easy to understand. Before you get started you should make sure you have the answers to a few key questions:
What are you going to get? You need to work out exactly what is included in your relationship. Will your relationship consist of a one-time plan, ongoing investment management, periodic check-ins, or more comprehensive family financial planning?
How are you going to work together? At your first meeting, you should also set some clear expectations about the ongoing relationship. Who is going to set up future meetings and what can you expect, how often should you talk, and how do you prefer getting information? Explaining this up front can get things off on the right foot.
What are you going to pay? Some advisors get paid a fee on a percentage of the assets they manage, others take a fee based on all of your assets—even the ones you invest elsewhere. That can be a big difference. Some advisors charge hourly, monthly, or a flat fee for a service, and some get paid with commissions for products you choose to buy. There are pluses and minuses to all these different setups, but you should understand how and what you are going to pay and how it could influence the advice you get.
2. Focus on your family's priorities
People make the decision to seek out professional financial advice for all kinds of reasons. For some, it's a job change or an inheritance. For others, a major decision looms on the horizon, like college expenses or retirement. Whatever the reason, make sure you explain exactly what you are looking for up front, so your new advisor knows what's most important to you.
If you share your finances with a partner, make sure you have discussed what you each want to get out of the planning process, and identify any major questions or shared goals you have. For some people, it's worth considering the needs of other generations, especially if you have children or parents who you need to take into account. And be sure both you and your partner attend the meetings.
Don't be surprised if your advisor needs to see the big picture of your financial life to address your specific goals. To help you plan for or address a specific goal, most advisors will want to understand the context of the goal, provide you with a clear picture of how well you are currently positioned, and then provide suggestions that may help you meet your goals.
3. Get the numbers ready in advance
Gather these documents before your meeting.
- Estate plan: Will, health care proxy, power of attorney (POA), trust
- Insurance documents
- Account statements: Brokerage, savings, retirement and employer stock plans
- Debt statements: Mortgage, student loans, credit cards
The more information you can give your advisor, the higher quality recommendations you can expect and the faster the process may be. At your initial meeting, be ready to give some general descriptions of your financial life, your income, expenses, savings and investments, and debt. Many advisors use systems that let you link your accounts to their planning software—for instance, Full View® at Fidelity. By connecting your accounts, your advisor can get a full picture of your financial life right away, and dig into the planning process. Connecting your accounts will also save you the hassle of tracking down all your balances and info.
Depending on your goals, it may also help to explain your workplace benefits package and tax situation. Providing copies of your benefits documentation and a copy of your tax return can help.
You should also be prepared to explain who is involved in your financial life. You may help care for children, your parents, or others. And you may have more people on your team that your advisor should know about—like an accountant, lawyer, or trustee.
4. Make sure it's a match
As you begin your planning process, you should make sure you and your advisor are a good match. Be sure to see if their communication style matches yours and if they take the time to explain things in a way that’s valuable to you. Also, make sure your advisor is working with a team that has the resources and expertise to deliver quality advice and services.
The first meeting checklist
Before your meeting:
- Weigh your goals and discuss them with your partner, if you have one
- Upload or prepare account info for your debts, investments, and savings and estate plan
During your meeting:
- Get clarity on costs, services, and communications
- Leave with clear next steps
The bottom line
Starting a financial planning process is an exciting step, but you want to make sure you know what you are getting into, set clear goals, and make the process as efficient as possible.