In Australia, a company providing financial services must obtain a licence from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). However, there are no requirements for the individuals providing the financial advice, and the ASIC website states that "Holding an AFS licence does not provide a guarantee of the probity or quality of the licensee's services."
You should also request a copy of a financial advisor’s Form ADV and Form CRS, which is paperwork the SEC requires advisory firms to file. This will provide information about an advisor’s business, pay structure, educational background, potential conflicts of interest and disciplinary history. That information is also available online through the SEC’s Investment Advisor Public Disclosure (IAPD) tool. You should also request a performance record and list of client references to contact.
If you’re starting out and don’t have a trove of assets, an planner who charges by the hour could be the best fit. These planners are best for when your needs are fairly simple. Typically, hourly planners are just building their practice, but that usually means they’ll take the care to get your finances right. After all, they’re relying on your recommendation to grow their business. Finally, many experienced advisers do hourly work because they enjoy working with younger clients who can only afford to hire someone at that rate.
You might also encounter financial planners who cater exclusively to the rich and refuse clients with less than $250,000 to invest. Don’t take it personally—hugely successful planners would just prefer to deal with big accounts rather than beginner clients. You want a planner who’ll make the time to focus on your concerns and is interested in growing with you.
Choosing a fiduciary financial advisor can give you greater peace of mind. With a fiduciary financial advisor, you’ll know that the person managing your money must make decisions in your best interest. In general, fiduciary financial advisors tend to have fewer conflicts of interest, and they’re required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest that they have. Financial professionals who earn commissions may be incentivized to sell their own products even if there are comparable products available at a lower cost. Fiduciaries must seek the best prices and terms for their clients. Thus, if you work with a fiduciary you’re more likely to end up with the product or recommendation that’s truly right for you.
Many RIAs are fee-only advisors, meaning they can’t work off commission or sell a client any investment products that aren’t in the client's best interests. Financial planners don’t have to be RIAs to work under this business model. Fee-only financial planners generally make money via an hourly rate, an annual fixed retainer, or as a percentage of the investment assets they manage on behalf of their clients. They also have a fiduciary duty to their clients over any broker or dealer.