While many investors assume that all financial advisors are highly trained and intelligent – just as in any other profession -- it should go without saying that not all advisors are created equal.
While there are many reasons why one advisor may be better equipped than another, the simple fact is that because financial advisors exist to council you about your investments and financial planning – the stakes are exceedingly high.
So, how difficult is it to become a financial advisor? Did you know that becoming a financial advisor is not necessarily a stringent process? To work as a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) or in a brokerage - beyond the basic licensing tests (the Series 65 or a combination of the Series 7 and 63, respectively) there are no ongoing educational requirements required to keep your license. It is important to note, also, there are some types of financial professionals who are not required to have ANY formal licensing. For example a portfolio manager at some federally regulated banks may not be required to have any licensing to be eligible to help manage an investor’s assets.
And even if an advisor is licensed, technically, there are no prior educational requirements – meaning that one does not need to be a college or even a high school graduate. It may be likely that you advisor does have a college degree, but it is not required.
This raises a number of alarming questions. The first and most obvious question would be – how can you tell if your advisor is well qualified? With so much at stake, how do you know who to work with?
The truth is that most of the responsibility of choosing a competent advisor falls squarely on your shoulders. Should you go with someone from a big firm? Should you rely on referrals? Are you willing to roll the dice? Fortunately, there are certain skills and abilities that indicate when you are working with a talented and competent financial advisor who has also attained adequate education and formal training.
In Part 1 of our four-part series on finding a great financial advisor, we’ll show you what to look for when choosing investment professionals to guide your wealth management strategies.
Education, Training and Your Financial Planning Consultant
We feel that a financial advisor should earn, at the minimum, an undergraduate college degree as well as advanced education in topics related to financial planning, such as:
In addition, we feel that financial advisors should keep learning throughout their career. Participating in continuing professional education will keep their knowledge base up-to-date and ensure that they're well-versed in current regulations and standards.
This continuing education will also lead to another sign of a well-educated financial advisor: Professional designations and certifications. These may include:
CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (CFP®)
Chartered Financial Consultant or (ChFC®)
Certified Public Accountant/Personal Financial Specialist or (CPA/PFS)
Financial Planning Association Member
Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF®)
Accredited Fiduciary Investment Manager (AFIM®)
Experience, Expertise and Your Financial Planning Consultant
Though education and training is important, don't base your evaluation completely on the letters behind a financial advisor's name. Just because they've earned a designation doesn't mean that they're necessarily the best advisor for you. You may also want to steer clear of an advisor who has changed firms frequently as it may be a sign of other issues.
Instead of selecting an advisor solely on training and educational credentials, take a look into their background and experience, as well. Sometimes, an advisor that's been in the business longer and can provide comprehensive financial planning services may be a better fit, especially if your financial situation is complex.
Finally, don't be shy about asking for recommendations from other trusted professionals you work with like your CPA or estate attorney about who they might suggest you should talk to. By talking to an assortment of professionals you may be able to get a sense which advisors have an investment approach that will help you achieve for your financial goals.
We have just begun to scratch the surface of the skills and abilities your advisor should possess in order to provide you with meaningful, long-term guidance. In Finding A Great Financial Advisor Part 2: Costs and Fees, we will continue to explore what to look for when choosing your investment professional. We will be specifically covering how an advisor is compensated -- and how this can affect the financial advice they provide.