More Questions for a Financial Planner
What other financial products does the financial planner sell?
To get completely independent advice, you need to make sure that your advisor is completely independent, or at least completely transparent. Find out what incentives -- if any -- the advisor receives from selling you insurance or securities. It's not impossible for a nonindependent financial advisor to give you stellar advice, but such an advisor comes with a lot of baggage. If you know that your financial planner gets a 5 percent commission on sales of life insurance, for example, you may be less likely to bite when she gives you the hard sell on term policies.
How will your parents pay for these services?
It's important to know up front how the financial planner you're considering earns her salary. Some are paid on commission -- usually a percentage of the amount the client invests -- deducted monthly or quarterly from the account. Others charge an hourly fee or flat rate, while some receive a salary from their company, which in turn collects commissions from products you buy. Still others make their money from some combination of fees and commissions. So-called fee-only financial advisors, or those who don't charge commissions or make money from product sales, are often the safest bet in terms of avoiding conflicts of interest and receiving objective advice.
Has the financial planner been certified by a reputable source?
Make sure a reputable source has accredited the financial planner you're considering. There are more than 54,500 certified financial planners in the United States, according to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, and with so many to choose from you'll find a huge range in quality among the advisors in your area.
Accreditations don't guarantee a successful relationship, but they do give you an indication as to whether your financial planner has stayed abreast of developments in the financial planning world. It can be difficult to keep all the acronyms and abbreviations straight, but if you see letters after the name of the planner you're interviewing, find out what they mean and how many hours of continuing education she needed to get them. (The easiest way to do that is to enter the acronym in a search engine, like Google or Yahoo.) For example, to qualify as a NAPFA (National Association of Personal Finance) registered financial advisor, your planner must complete 60 hours of continuing education every two years, while the Financial Planning Association doesn't require any continuing education at all.
Most financial advisor associations offer an elder care certification, such as certified senior advisor, for individuals who've completed special training dealing with the specific financial issues and concerns of senior citizens, so find out if the planner you're considering has such an affiliation.
Can you parents talk to previous clients?
Any financial planner you're considering should happily offer a list of referrals, including several long-term clients. The latter are especially important to talk to because they can give you a sense of how your advisor performs under different market conditions. A referral list consisting only of new clients is a red flag — if a financial planner is involved in any kind of unethical conduct, she would be unlikely to make long-term clients available to talk to potential customers. Of course, probably the best way to find a financial planner is a referral from someone you know and trust who's been using her planner for several years and is happy with the results.