Selecting a Broker or Financial Planner

By: Gary Foreman

All the talk around the water cooler is about who made money in the stock market. And you're beginning to feel like the only person who hasn't joined in. You know that you need to plan for retirement, but right now you're on the 'hope plan'. That's where you hope you have enough money later. In fact, you've been meaning to find a stock broker or financial planner to help you. But even that's tough, since there are so many of them.

So let's see if we can't learn how to find a good stock broker or financial planner. To start we need to have an idea of what we want to accomplish. If your goal is long term, you'll want someone who has a stronger background in financial planning. On the other hand, if your goal is to make a few fast bucks in the market you'll want to find someone who has experience trading stocks. The odds of finding someone who's excellent in both areas is slim.

In fact, it takes a different type of personality for each to succeed. The stock broker needs to be a risk taker. A good broker must be able to understand financial reports, but also be plugged in to good sources of information. While they're not allowed to trade on insider information, some brokers just seem to be closer to good information.

A good financial planner has a different style. Much of their strategy isn't taking risks, but rather minimizing them. And that's just as it should be. Working towards a long term goal puts time on your side. The trick isn't to make money quickly. Rather you want to keep from losing too much money no matter what happens in the future. That means that more than one strategy will work if you give it enough time.

Now that you have an idea of whether you want a planner or broker, how do you know who to choose? Let's begin by making a list of potential candidates. Ask your relatives, neighbors, co-workers and any one that you respect who they use. Get a name, firm and phone number. Ask your friend what's the worst thing about working with their advisor. That answer alone should eliminate some candidates.

If you ask around you should be able to collect between four and six names. The next step is to follow up with a phone call. Tell the receptionist that you're looking for a new advisor and would like to talk with them now or make an appointment for later. Don't be disappointed if they don't put you through. If the advisor is successful you would expect them to limit interruptions.

When you do speak with them you'll want to refer to a list of questions that you've already prepared. Verify before the meeting that it is a free session.

What you expect to accomplish in an interview will vary for brokers and planners. With a broker you'd expect him to brag about his results a little. Part of the selection process is listening and deciding how much of what they say is 'brag' and how much is 'fact'.

You'll also want to see what types of questions they ask you. Part of the process for the broker should be to determine your experience in the market, ability to take risks and goals. And they shouldn't be willing to accept 'make a lot of money' as a goal. They should insist that you provide a rate of return that you expect. If they fail to do that, neither one of you will know what you really expect to accomplish.

When you interview a candidate to be your financial planner you'll want to find out about their philosophy of wealth accumulation. They should ask you detailed questions about your current net worth, income/expenses and financial goals. Also expect them to ask about your experience with investments. Good planners want to find out how much you know about the subject. A good planner is a lot like a doctor. You need to be willing to take off your financial clothes if they're going to do any good.

You'll also need to ask the planner how they charge. Some earn commission on investments. Others charge on an hourly basis or even ask for a percentage of your wealth each quarter. Fees can vary dramatically. You can expect to pay in the $1,000 range for a financial plan. Hourly rates are in the $100 per hour range. If those rates seem prohibitive, you might need to consider a planner that charges a commission on the investments they recommend.

Many planners have achieved professional certification. And, unfortunately for consumers, there are a number of them that planners can obtain. The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation is granted to people who pass five courses. Having taken the courses, I can vouch that it is possible to fail! The courses cover insurance, taxes, retirement planning, investments and estate planning.

You might also come across someone who is a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC). The program began back in 1982 and over 30,000 people have earned the designation. There are 10 courses involved in completion. Typically people coming from an insurance background are more likely to earn this designation.

Certified Public Accountants are also offering 'fee only' financial planning. That means they don't earn any commissions on the investments you make. If you have some tax problems that could a good route to take. But, remember that they're background is in taxes, not investments.

You'll also probably wonder if you couldn't do it yourself. And for many people the answer is yes. There's a wealth of information available. Between your library and the internet you have a wealth of resources.

But, before you decide, remember what you expect that professional to do. You'd want your stock broker to be continually talking stocks with a wide range of experts to help him find the next winner. A couple of buddies at the golf club is not the same thing. A financial planner needs to be familiar with investment strategies, tax laws and a wide range of issues. Again, it's great to read Money magazine. But, that doesn't put you on the same plane as someone who works in the field every day.

Selecting a broker or planner is a very personal experience. Taking a little extra time and effort now could pay dividends for many years.

Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website ( You'll find hundreds of free articles to stretch your day and your budget.

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