1. How often do they meet with their clients?
It is important to know how often your financial advisor expects to meet with you. As your personal situation changes you want to ensure that they are willing to meet frequently enough to be able to update your investment portfolio in response to those changes. Advisors will meet with their clients at varying frequencies. If you are planning to meet with your advisor once a year and something were to come up that you thought was important to discuss with them; would they make themselves available to meet with you? You want your advisor to always be working with current information and have full knowledge of your situation at any given time. If your situation does change then it is important to communicate this with your financial advisor.
2. Ask if you can see a sample of a financial plan that they have previously prepared for a client.
It is important that you are comfortable with the information that your advisor will provide to you, and that it is furnished in a comprehensive and usable manner. They may not have a sample available, but they would be able to access one that they had fashioned previously for a client, and be able to share it with you by removing all of the client specific information prior to you viewing it. This will help you to understand how they work to help their clients to reach their goals. It will also allow you to see how they track and measure their results, and determine if those results are in line with clients’ goals. Also, if they can demonstrate how they help with the planning process, it will let you know that they actually do financial “planning”, and not just investing.
3. Ask how the advisor is compensated and how that translates into any costs for you.
There are only a few different ways for advisors to be compensated. The first and most common method is for an advisor to receive a commission in return for their services. A second, newer form of compensation has advisors being paid a fee on a percentage of the client’s total assets under management. This fee is charged to the client on an annual basis and is usually somewhere between 1% and 2.5%. This is also more common on some of the stock portfolios that are discretionarily managed. Some advisors believe that this will become the standard for compensation in the future. Most financial institutions offer the same amount of compensation, but there are cases in which some companies will compensate more than others, introducing a possible conflict of interest. It is important to understand how your financial advisor is compensated, so that you will be aware of any suggestions that they make, which may be in their best interests instead of your own. It is also very important for them to know how to speak freely with you about how they are being compensated. The third method of compensation is for an advisor to be paid up front on the investment purchases. This is typically calculated on a percentage basis as well, but is usually a higher percentage, approximately 3% to 5% as a onetime fee. The final method of compensation is a mix of any of the above. Depending on the advisor they may be transitioning between different structures or they may alter the structures depending on your situation. If you have some shorter term money that is being invested, then the commission from the fund company on that purchase will not be the best way to invest that money. They may choose to invest it with the front end fee to prevent a higher cost to you. In any case, you will want to be aware, before entering into this relationship, if and how, any of the above methods will translate into costs for you. For example, will there be a cost for transferring your assets from another advisor? Most advisors will cover the costs incurred during the transfer.
4. Does your advisor have a Certified Financial Planner Designation?
The certified financial planner (CFP) designation is well recognized across Canada. It affirms that your financial planner has taken the complex course on financial planning. More importantly, it ensures that they have been able to demonstrate through success on a test, encompassing a variety of areas, that they understand financial planning, and can apply this knowledge to many different applications. These areas include many aspects of investing, retirement planning, insurance and tax. It shows that your advisor has a broader and higher level of understanding than the average financial advisor