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10 Questions to Ask a Potential Financial Advisor

By Amy Braun-Bostich, MSFP, CFP®, CFS®, APMA®, CLTC®

Deciding to work with a financial planner is a big step—and to some it can be a daunting decision. With so many options, how do you narrow down your choices? 

Don’t be afraid to interview your potential candidates. Working with a financial planner tends to be a long-term process, so you want to make sure you are completely comfortable with your choice. After all, you will be sharing a lot of personal financial information with this person. 

Arm yourself with a list of questions before you get started so you can have a focused conversation. Here are 10 questions to help you get started.

1. How Will Our Relationship Work?

Do you want an advisor that is constantly in touch, or do you want a more hands-off approach? If you want a close working relationship with your advisor, it’s important to assess how much access you will have to that advisor. By asking them how often you’ll meet and whether they’re available for phone calls or emails outside of scheduled appointments or calls might tell you all you need to know.

2. Is Your Firm a Fiduciary?

This is a critical question to ask an advisor as fiduciaries must put their clients’ best interests before their own. Because of this duty, advisors who are bound by fiduciary rule have fewer conflicts of interest, which means there tends to be a greater level of trust. Financial professionals who are not bound by a fiduciary duty are simply required to only uphold a suitability obligation, which means that while they must make “suitable” recommendations to their clients, they are not required to put their clients’ interests above all else. 

Be sure to explicitly ask the financial advisor whether they have any potential conflicts of interest. Keep in mind that some advisors may also act as insurance agents or representatives of a broker-dealer. Commissions may be earned from trading and/or selling products, which may incentivize them to sell these products to their clients—hence, the conflict.

3. What Financial Services Does Your Firm Provide?

Before selecting a financial advisor, it’s imperative to consider whether you only want investment management services or if you would like more comprehensive planning and wealth management services. Financial advisors frequently offer a varied range of services in addition to simple portfolio management. Here are some examples:

  • Retirement planning
  • Trust and estate planning
  • Tax mitigation strategies
  • Educational expense planning
  • Wealth protection/risk and insurance planning
  • Cash flow and budget planning
  • Charitable giving
  • Wealth transfer planning

Many advisors also specialize in assisting clients in navigating the financial challenges of big life events (such as marriage or divorce), while others concentrate on getting a client ready for retirement. Advisors who cater to high-net-worth individuals and their families may also offer a suite of comprehensive wealth management/family office services, along with administrative services such as automated bill pay.

4. How Does Your Firm Make Money?

Of course, you need to identify how much your financial advisor will charge for their services. Depending on the service(s) offered, advisors might charge a flat fee, hourly fee, or a fee based on assets under management (AUM). Characteristically, advisors charge a flat fee or hourly fee for financial planning services and an asset-based fee for portfolio/investment management. Remember that some advisors also earn commissions for selling financial products or trading securities.

It is important to note the difference between fee-only and fee-based financial advisors. Fee-based advisors charge up-front fees, but also receive a commission for selling financial products. Fee-only advisors only make money from fees they charge their clients. If you’re concerned about being subjected to frequent sales pitches, you probably want to consider a fee-only financial advisor relationship.

5. What’s Your Fee Structure?

Financial planners should be transparent about their pricing structure. Advisors will charge either by an hourly rate, a project rate, or a flat rate for a financial plan and/or a percentage of AUM. Be sure to understand up front how much their services will cost, and which plan would best suit your financial life needs and budgeting goals.

6. What Will You Do for Me?

In other words, you are asking them why you should work with them. More tactfully, “What makes you unique from other advisors?” Perhaps their firm focuses heavily on business owners, entrepreneurs, or educating and empowering female investors. If that checks the boxes on your list, then you might have found your perfect match. If it doesn’t check any of your boxes, it’s probably best to keep searching.

7. Who Is Your Ideal Client?

Advisors should be able to plainly articulate the answer to this question because this is the client that is most important to them. Should you look a lot like this profile, the advisor will likely perform exceedingly well for you, as there is tight synergy between profitability, comfort level, and the advisor’s long-term goals. If you are outside the ideal-client parameters, it’s probably worth inquiring why the advisor is interested in working with you. They may be looking to expand their services or may feel indebted to an existing client who may have referred you to them. Regardless, understanding who they want to work with may help you understand how much attention your account will receive, and if this is adequate to meet your financial life needs.

8. Who Will Have Access to My Financial Information?

Securing confidential information is becoming more important for financial advisors and, most importantly, to you. This not only gives your potential advisor-to-be the chance to discuss their cybersecurity protocols in detail, but you’ll also learn how the advisor’s support team is likely to provide management services to you should you need them. 

9. What Brings Meaning to Your Life?

You can be assured that a financial advisor is going to ask you a lot of intimate questions—the answers to which carry with them a foundation of trust. Therefore, it is fitting for you to understand more about them as a person and not just as a financial professional. By asking this probing question and listening intently, you can absorb a lot about their overall values. Do their values align with yours? Savvy clients find that being well-aligned on a personal level can make a difference in their overall decision to choose one advisor over another. Furthermore, the greater the synergy, the more likely it is that the relationship will be mutually positive and long-lasting.

10. Would You Allow Me to Speak With One of Your Clients to Discuss Their Experience With Your Firm?

Financial planners should be confident and comfortable providing you with references of clients whose money they’ve managed and financial plans they’ve delivered. If they aren’t, this could be a warning flag for you. 

Do You Have Questions?

If you want to interview us, or get our answers to the questions addressed here, we would love to hear from you! Get started by scheduling a free 30-minute phone consultation or reaching out to us at amy@braun-bostich.com or 724.942.2639.

About Amy

Amy Braun-Bostich is founder, CEO, and private wealth advisor at Braun-Bostich & Associates, a fee-based fiduciary wealth management firm located just outside Pittsburgh in Canonsburg, PA. With over 30 years of experience, Amy is dedicated to serving her high-net-worth pre-retiree and retiree clients, including medical and academic professionals, and next-generation accumulators, helping them transform their wealth through customized strategies and top-notch services so they can achieve their goals and receive a new vision of what’s possible. With a goal of adding value to the lives she touches; Amy approaches each client with compassion and transparency and prioritizes building lifelong relationships.

Amy has invested countless hours into growing in her skills and knowledge to bring her clients the best advice possible for their situation. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA, as well as a Master of Science in Financial Planning. She holds multiple certifications, including CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Accredited Portfolio Management Advisor℠, Certified Fund Specialist®, and Certification for Long-Term Care. She was named one of Pennsylvania’s Top Women Wealth Advisors in Forbes’ 2022 Best-In-State list. When she’s not helping her clients find clarity and purpose, you can find Amy reading, going on walks, and gardening. She loves to travel and spend time with her family, including her husband, two children, and her dog. To learn more about Amy, connect with her on LinkedIn.

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