Think about communication and trust

Communication and trust are key components of an adviser-client relationship. “I hear stories about financial advisers not returning client phone calls or emails for weeks, which is a big warning sign,” says certified financial planner Ryan Haiss at Flynn Zito Capital Management. “You want to make sure you are receiving superior customer service from your financial adviser.”

Indeed, pros say you should be reviewing your financial situation with your adviser at least a couple times a year, and in some cases more often. “There are years you talk to your adviser every month, and there are years when a single check-in is completely appropriate. I think 2-3 times a year is a good average,” Jen Grant, a financial planner at Perryman Financial Advisory, told MarketWatch Picks.

The quality of the communication is, of course, essential too: Does your adviser clearly communicate how they are helping you reach your goals and how on track you are to reach them?  Do they clearly explain even the most complicated investments and other financial moves to you? Are they transparent about their fees and how they are paid?

And, of course, do you fully trust them? (You can use this free tool to get matched with an adviser who may meet your needs.)

Do a deep dive into performance and fees

If you’re curious about evaluating what your planner has done for you, the easiest way to look back is to ask your current adviser for information pertaining to performance and fees. “You can also review your account statements to see how your account has performed over time and what fees have been withdrawn,” says certified financial planner Zack Hubbard at Greenspring Advisors. 

Another way to measure performance is to compare how your portfolio has performed compared to common benchmarks like the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

Though it can be tempting to look for a new firm when markets are down, keep in mind that advisers don’t control capital markets. “Inappropriate investments usually constitute a good reason to switch, but be careful switching based solely on performance concerns. The next adviser will face the same challenges and constraints the last one did and may not be able to do any better,” says certified financial planner Matt Bacon at Carmichael Hill & Associates.

Make sure you also take into account all the fees associated with your portfolio, aside from what you’re paying your adviser to manage your investments. There might be a way for you to reduce product fees, implementation fees and investment fees that you might be paying in addition to your adviser’s fee.

Don’t feel strange about asking for a copy of all fees paid and performance figures over your preferred time frames: “Your adviser can easily run a report for you,” says Bacon. Here’s a look at how much financial advisers typically cost, so you can make sure you’re getting a fair deal.

Ask yourself if you’re getting real value for the money spent

Ask yourself whether you’re getting sufficient value for what you’re paying. “If the answer is yes, then you may be fine sticking with your adviser, but if the answer is no, it’s time to look elsewhere,” says Hubbard. (You can use this free tool to get matched with an adviser who may meet your needs.)

“Clients have every right to evaluate the service their financial adviser is providing just like they would with any other professional relationship. Look at whether the adviser is helping you meet your objectives or financial goals,” says certified financial planner James Daniel at The Advisory Firm. Note too that advisers can serve important emotional jobs, like helping reduce stress and anxiety around money and boosting financial confidence, says certified financial planner Reese Harper at Elements. 

Make sure the adviser’s qualifications and experience match your needs

Even the best adviser isn’t right for every client. So think about your own financial needs, and then make sure the adviser’s qualifications and experience match those. This guide can help you figure out how to perform that analysis.

Do a background check if you haven’t already

“Review your adviser’s profile on FINRA’s BrokerCheck site for any reportable issues or red flags such as rule violations or complaints,” says Hubbard. Ideally, you’ve checked these details out prior to hiring your current adviser, but if not, there’s no better time than the present.

Make sure you’ve asked your adviser these questions

Ideally, you asked these 15 questions before hiring your adviser, but if not, do it now. What’s more, in order to truly assess how your adviser is performing and how they’ve done in the past, Hubbard says you should be able to answer yes to these questions: Am I closer to my financial goals than when we started working together? Do I feel more comfortable with my personal finances now than when we started? Am I getting the value and service that I expect for the fee that I’m paying? 

Document the pros and cons of your current adviser — and have an open conversation with them about that

Before starting the search process for a new adviser, document the things that your adviser does well and the areas where they could improve. “By having that list ready you will be able to assess whether another adviser will be a better fit for you than your current adviser,” says Hubbard. 

Harper says, “Once you have a clear idea of what you want, sit down with your adviser and have an open conversation. Share your goals, be specific about what you want to achieve and set some boundaries together. If after this discussion, they can’t meet your needs, it might be time to consider other options.”

If it’s time to leave, that’s completely fine. “If you feel that it’s time to explore alternatives, look for professional organizations such as the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors or the Financial Planning Association to find qualified candidates,” says Daniel. Note that most advisers will provide a free initial consultation, and you should meet with at least three before picking a new one. (You can use this free tool to get matched with an adviser who may meet your needs.)


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