How to Choose a Financial Planner

You’re likely seeking help from a financial planner for a number of reasons: planning for retirement, finding the best way to finance a new home, saving for your children’s education, looking for a second opinion on your current investments… or simply to get help putting your finances in order.

Working with a financial planner is a helpful step in securing your financial future. And choosing the right planner is extremely important because your choice will almost certainly affect your financial future. You need to choose someone who is reputable, highly competent and a certified professional – someone with whom you feel comfortable and whose business style suits your financial needs.

The following questions will help you interview and evaluate financial planners to find one who is right for you (and tell you more about Brett).

Key Questions to Ask When Hiring a Financial Planner

How do you, as a financial planner, charge for your services?

A professional financial advisor will give you a clear, easy-to-understand answer to your question.

There are 4 common compensation models:

COMMISSIONS: Some financial planners earn a commission when they buy or sell an investment for you. When you purchase a mutual fund, your planner may also earn a trailing commission for as long as you own that fund. If your financial planner makes a commission, be sure to ask them if they earn more money recommending one investment over another.

SALARY: The company employing the planner pays them a salary. These advisers usually work for a bank, trust company or credit union. They only provide advice about the products their financial institution offers, limiting the investments they can recommend to you.

FEE-FOR-SERVICE: Advisors paid on a fee-for-service basis may charge an hourly rate or set a flat rate for a specific financial planning service.

FEE-BASED: Other advisors (including Brett) earn a fee based on a percentage of the assets in your portfolio. The percentage typically varies on a sliding scale depending on how much money you invest.

Is there an up-front cost to start working with you?

If a financial advisor is compensated through commissions, a salary or on a fee-based model, there should not be an up-front cost to work with them. If they’re paid on a fee-for-service model, a reputable financial planner will let you know the cost to start working with them before you begin a formal relationship.

If you’re looking for a financial planner, Brett will meet with you to find out if he can help you and give you an opportunity to learn more about him. There’s no cost, no obligation, and no pressure for you to commit to anything more.

If you do decide you want to work with Brett, he will develop a comprehensive, personalized Life Plan to present to you at the next meeting.

Are you licensed to sell stocks?

If a financial planner offers limited investment products, such as only mutual funds, GICs or segregated funds, this restriction is a weakness of which you need to be aware.

Brett is licensed to sell a full range of investment products including individual stocks. See his financial planning services.

Do you only offer financial and investment products that your firm sells or recommends?

If an advisor only sells their firm’s investment products, the more likely their recommendations attempt to match a handful of products with everyone’s goals—a cookie cutter approach rather than a personalized one.

Brett sells investment solutions (mutual funds, stocks, bonds, ETFs, GICs, annuities and more) from many different providers. He is not obligated to sell Manulife products; instead he selects the products that best fit an individual’s, a family’s or a company’s short- and long-term goals.

What professional qualifications do you have?

If you’re seeking financial services and products, you are likely also looking for financial planning advice.

Financial planning is a detailed, complicated process. It requires hands-on experience and a strong technical understanding of topics such as personal tax planning, insurance, investments, retirement planning and estate planning — and how a recommendation in one area can affect the others.

When interviewing a potential planner for you and your family, ask them about their qualifications and the training they have successfully completed. Are they taking steps to stay current with changes and developments in the financial planning field? Do they hold professional designations other than those specific to financial planning?

Professional designations indicate a planner knows their stuff: they’re competent, ethical, and up-to-date on current thinking in financial planning.

Certified Financial Planner

International experts recognize the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) as the hallmark of a competent, ethical, professional financial planner. You can learn more about it at the Financial Planning Standards Council.

Chartered Investment Manager

The Chartered Investment Manager (CIM) is another respected credential indicating a professional who is trained in investment management.

A CIM has completed a number of education courses, passed his or her exams, and remains up-to-date on financial planning via regular, continuing education. They possess the tools necessary to evaluate and manage the most complex aspects of your investment portfolio.

Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute

A Fellow of the Canadian Securities Institute (FCSI) is the highest honour and most senior credential in Canadian financial services. This designation identifies an elite group of experienced financial service professionals that meet high standards for advanced education, ethical conduct, industry experience, and peer endorsement.

Brett is a CFP, a CIM, and a FCSI.

How much financial planning experience do you have?

Experience is an important consideration in choosing any professional. Ask how long the financial planner has been in practice, the number and types of firms they have been associated with, and how their work experience relates to their current practice.

Ask about the experience the financial planner has in dealing with people in situations similar to yours and whether they have specialized training.

Brett has more than 20 years experience in financial services. Read more about Brett.

What happens in an introductory consultation?

Many financial planners offer prospective clients a complimentary, introductory consultation. The goal of this meeting is to determine if you feel the planner is a good fit for you (and vice versa).

The meeting should provide an opportunity to discover if the chemistry is right, you feel comfortable with this particular planner and, most importantly, that they really listen to you and your financial concerns, hopes for your future and what you are looking to accomplish.

You should not feel pressured to sign forms in the first meeting—take your time to find out if a financial planner is right for you and your family.

Are they professional and knowledgeable? Although it’s sometimes difficult to tell, you should get a sense of their expertise in an initial meeting. While designations certainly help, they should also speak thoughtfully about your situation.

Meet Brett to learn about his approach to an initial consultation.

Do you require a minimum amount of investable assets?

Many financial planners require clients to have a minimum amount of investable assets. Investable assets are liquid assets, such as money in your bank accounts, RRSP, TFSA, plus investments in mutual funds, stocks and bonds. Investable assets do not include your home, ownership in a private company, cars or jewellery.

You won’t need a minimum portfolio to work with Brett; his ideal client is someone who takes their own financial situation seriously, values what he does and has a minimum personality and the financial potential to meet their goals.

Who are your typical clients?

Look for an advisor with experience working with clients like you. If your situation is unique, such as children with special-needs, look for a planner with expertise in that area. You should be comfortable that what you are looking for is something they can easily provide because they do it every day.

Brett’s clients come from every occupation and lifestyle. Learn more about the type of people Brett works with.

How long have you worked with most of your clients?

Look for an advisor who has long, stable relationships with many clients. Brett has worked with many of his clients for close to 20 years.

Can I contact a few clients you’ve worked with for at least five years?

If there is any hesitation when you ask a financial advisor to provide you with references, head for the hills. If you decide you want to work with Brett and you want to speak to some of his clients before you commit, he will supply references to people relevant to your situation.

What is your investment philosophy?

A good advisor starts with an effective plan that doesn’t require many adjustments over time. The plan should start with an understanding of your existing asset base, your life goals, and the amount of money you can comfortably invest every year to meet those goals.

Brett’s philosophy is to spend time listening to his clients before he develops a plan to help them meet their financial goals. He tends to recommend more conservative investments, rather than taking unnecessary risks with a family’s money that they’ve worked hard to accumulate

Brett’s role is as a trusted advisor, to invest your money wisely and not to speculate.

How often will you contact me or meet with me?

Look for a financial planner who says something along the lines of “I meet with most of my clients at least once a year although the frequency depends on their personal preferences, the complexity of their portfolio, and the particular financial challenges they face.”

Brett tailors meeting frequency to his clients’ individual needs and preferences. Most meet with him at least once a year to review their portfolio, its performance, and discuss changes to their long-term goals.