A good financial planner will not make recommendations until they understand your goals and have run a long-term financial plan for you. If you meet with someone who starts talking about a financial product right away, even if they call themselves a financial planner, they are more likely a financial salesperson. A good financial planner will want to gather account statements and data on all aspects of your financial life.
The financial services field is constantly evolving and changing. Recent decades have seen the rise of unified managed accounts, the development of exchange traded funds (ETF), the evolution of annuities and insured investment products, and a host of other developments. Change is par for the course as the industry adapts to dynamic economic conditions and changes in what investors want and how they wish to deploy their assets.
If you're considering hiring professional help, you'll need to know what to expect from a good financial planner, and how to tell the difference between a salesperson and someone who offers fiduciary financial planning advice and carries valid financial credentials or designation. Hiring the right professional planner starts by understanding what financial planning is and knowing what to expect of the person you might hire.
Of course, the fiduciary advisor will have to meet the professional standards of prudence, loyalty and adequate asset diversification, as well as compliance with all ERISA regulations. The clients' best interests must always come first when making any recommendation, although possible benefits to the fiduciary advisor and/or the employer may also be considered, as long as they are subordinate to the needs of the employee.
Compensation: The employer must consider the compensation arrangement required by the advisor. Will the advisor charge hourly or annual retainer fees, or commissions, or some combination thereof? Will compensation for all services be the same? May the fiduciary advisor charge a flat fee for offering retirement plan advice, and then make a commission on the sale of long-term-care insurance to the same employee?
After you have covered the basics and want a solid overview at a more detailed level, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Understanding Money & Investing is a great place to start. When you are done with that, your local library or bookstore will contain a variety of magazines covering both timely and general financial services topics. When you are ready to learn about equities, Value Line is a great publication that provides an introduction into how you can begin to research and analyze stocks. Even if you choose not to conduct your own stock analysis, the website is worth a visit.
Investment advice can range from a general recommendation as to what type of asset allocation model you should follow, to specific recommendations on which investments to buy and sell. Some financial planners also offer investment advice and investment management services in addition to financial planning. Ask a potential financial planner if they give specific investment advice or only offer planning services.
Personal Capital funded a research study that found that nearly half of Americans erroneously believe all advisors are legally required to always act in their clients' best interest. Not only is this wrong, but it can also be damaging to the millions of savers and investors who unwittingly expose themselves to biased and potentially dangerous advice from advisors who can do what is best for themselves, at the expense of their clients.
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