Preparing To Meet With A Financial Adviser: Part 1: Laying The Groundwork

While we feel developing a coaching and mentoring relationship with investors is a more effective approach to empower oneself to make better financial decisions compared to the traditional financial adviser relationship, we do recognize that financial advisers still serve an important role. They have undergone significant training and are well versed in a variety of financial disciplines ranging from tax planning, estate planning, insurance, and portfolio management. Financial advisers can be very helpful in executing your financial strategy and can provide tools and research to complement your decision making. We will often refer our coaching clients to professions who specialize in specific services. Financial advisers are not going away and will always be needed. At the same time, financial advisers and planners are operating a business and they need to be compensated whether on a fee-only or percent of assets basis, so some of their services and actions are driven by compensation and may not necessarily be in your own interest. As an investor, you need to be aware of this and cannot just simply walk into an advisers office and pass your money off to someone blindly. You have worked hard and sacrificed a lot to accumulate your savings, so you need to be driving the relationship with your adviser. It’s your money!

As part of our coaching practice, we have devoted time in the past to working with investors who do work with a financial adviser/planner to make them more street smart in how they approach their relationships with financial advisers and the financial services industry as a whole. Below are a few areas we focus on in prepping our clients for a meeting with their current or prospective financial adviser.

Dress to impress…or at least be taken seriously
Going into a meeting with a financial adviser is no different than going into a meeting in your office or even a job interview. It is a business meeting and you should be attired appropriately. Now I’m not saying you should take a trip to the mall and buy a full suit and tie. I’m saying be more business appropriate. A dress shirt and pants work better than a t-shirt and torn jeans or an Adidas track suit. If you can add on a blazer type jacket even better. For the ladies, trousers, knee length skirts, blouse, collared shirts work well. You want to walk in that room and project a message that you are to be taken seriously and that you take the concept of investing your money seriously. When you are meeting a prospective financial planner/adviser this is even more important. You want to ingrain that image into their head from the outset.

In terms of accessories, carry something you can write on (notepad/notebook or for the 21st century look, a tablet) to take notes and to write your questions you’ve prepared ahead of time (see next section). Again you want to project that you are considering the information being discussed to be important. Also there’s no way you are going to remember everything that is discussed in the meeting, so you need somewhere to jot ideas and concepts down. Chances are the adviser is going to give you brochures, research reports, and forms to fill out so having some kind of carry bag is a good thing. A grocery bag or sack would not be a way to go.

Prepare Your Notes
Under no circumstance should you walk into a meeting with a financial adviser without having some kind of plan of what you want to accomplish from the meeting. Many investors do little preparation and the adviser can tell right away. You can see their mouths water, knowing they have wide latitude to control the discussion and lead the discussion into the selling of products and services that they can milk money off you in fees. Before you walk into their office, you need a goal and a plan.

Define Your Goals Ahead of Time
When I meet with a prospective coaching client for the first time, I want to learn more about them to understand their investment knowledge, their tolerance for risk, and the stage in life they are in. Financial advisers and planners are no different. If they are meeting you for the first time, they will want to know more about who you are and what you are about. Normally they will give you a form to fill out that asks you these types of questions. As part of your preparation, you should already have a good idea of these qualities, so it can be a good idea to fill out one of these questionnaires ahead of time. There are many financial websites that ask you these types of questions and can formulate your investor profile. Try a couple out and see if there is an underlying theme. Chances are when you fill out one with your adviser, you can see if their interpretation is in synch with what you’ve been told. It is also a good test to size up the adviser in terms of their proficiency to assess clients.

The next thing you want to have defined is what is the financial goal you are trying to accomplish? Define it and write it down in your notebook and be able to articulate it clearly to the adviser. If you can articulate your financial goal you want to accomplish, you are again showing the adviser that you have put thought into this and that you are serious about meeting those goals. The goal needs to be specific and has a timeline. A goal like “I want to be semi-retired and work part time hours by my mid-50’s” is more meaningful than “I want to save enough to retire.” The financial adviser will try to draw these out from you in their conversations and often can go off into a tangent, but if you have it defined, the adviser will be put on notice that he/she has to keep the current and future conversations concise. Even if you can sense that they try to deviate into something irrelevant you can bring it back to the purpose because you are in tuned to your goals.

Be Confident but Not Full of Yourself
Throughout your conversations with your adviser, be respectful to them. If you have had a difficult relationship with an adviser in the past, let it go. Move on. You are trying now to put your financial destiny on a positive track. While your goal is to control the direction and actions from the meeting, you want to do it in a collaborative manner. Remember you are meeting a financial adviser/planner to get their advice and assistance. Even if you have a lot of experience investing, don’t stick it in their face saying, “I have been investing for 20 years so don’t tell me I don’t know how an MER works!” Your knowledge and experience should come through in the quality of questions you ask. The last thing you want to do is come in and kick your feet up and start talking down on people. When you are beginning to work with an adviser, establish the rules for engagement. Lay out your goals and expectations and how you expect the relationship to unfold. Identify how often you will meet and discuss your file. Identify what success is going to look like. End every meeting with action items that the adviser will carry out.

If you just follow these 4 points, you will be in a much better mindset and lay the groundwork for a meaningful conversation and more importantly building a meaningful relationship with your adviser. I may be sounding very harsh in the tone of how you should enter the meeting and it may sound like I’m proposing that you go into them with an adversarial mindset. The reality is your time is sacred and an advisers time is sacred. At the end of the day, this is about you and your money and ensuring that it is being allocated in the best method that is conducive to your life. Everything else including how your adviser feels is secondary.