Choosing a financial planner Featured

2:59pm EDT April 27, 2004
Choosing a qualified financial planner may be one of the most important decisions you make. Whether you are planning for retirement or your children's education, have just inherited some money or simply need help getting your finances in order, working with a financial planning expert may be crucial to securing your financial future.

The right planner can play a central role in helping you reach your life goals and achieve financial security, and taking the time to select a financial planner who is competent, trustworthy and relates to you is worth the extra trouble. Since your future may depend on your choice, here are some key points to consider for selecting the right financial planner.

Not all financial planners are created equal. Be wary of people who call themselves financial planners with the intent of pushing a particular product. True financial planning professionals have an ethical obligation to hold your financial interest above their own. Look for a professional who focuses on finding appropriate solutions, not selling products.

Not all financial planners are regulated. Anyone can call themselves a financial planner. One safe bet is to look for a planner who holds the CFP or Certified Financial Planner designation through the FPA. These professionals are held accountable to the FPA's Code of Professional Ethics for their financial planning recommendations and procedures. In addition to the ethics requirements, a CFP is required to pass a rigorous comprehensive examination, acquire several years of financial services experience and submit to annual continuing education requirements.

When evaluating the planner with whom you are going to work, you should not only interview the planner in person, you should also carefully check references. Information you should look for or ask for includes:

Education. Is it applicable to the planning industry?

Work experience. Make sure the planner has been in the industry at least 10 years. Ask for a brief description of how his or her work experience relates to your situation.

Qualifications. Ask what qualifies him or her to offer financial planning advice and if the individual is recognized as a CFP, CPA/Personal Financial Specialist or a Charter Financial Consultant.

Services performed. Does the planner have a well-rounded background and specialize in a broad spectrum of financial planning disciplines, or does he or she have a limited focus?

Compensation methods. Avoid commission- and product-driven advisers. A fee-based adviser may provide the most objective and unbiased advice.

True costs. Get your costs in writing, as well as a detailed description of the services to be provided. Watch out for hidden fees, commissions and transaction costs.

Other office professionals. It is important to see what additional expertise and experience a particular firm brings to your unique situation. Look for a firm with a deep talent pool.

Number of other clients served. Ensure the professional will be able to provide you with the level of attention you deserve. ;

Financial planning approach. Is it consistent with your needs and objectives?

Business affiliations. Does the planner have a business affiliation with any company whose products or services he or she is recommending? Avoid conflicts of interest.

References. Check existing clients and professional references such as bankers, accountants and attorneys.

Legal or industry complaints. Check with the FPA, the NASD and the SEC for any violations, lawsuits, censures or complaints.

As more people call themselves financial planners, finding the right professional to address your financial planning needs can be difficult. Take your time and do thorough research before making a decision. Become familiar with the planner's business style, personality, qualifications and experience. Make sure you understand the level of services he or she provides before you are committed to the relationship.

And finally, look for a measure of the planner's commitment to ethical behavior and adherence to high professional standards. Look for a financial planner who will put you and your unique needs at the center of every financial decision. J. Preston Byers II, CPA, CFP, (pbyers@cpcadvisors.com) is a financial planner with Consolidated Planning Corp., a registered advisory firm in Atlanta. He has more than 14 years of experience and expertise in the financial planning and investment industry providing sound advice to individuals, families and small business. Byers specializes in the areas of income tax planning, estate and gift planning, retirement planning, charitable gifting strategies and investments. Reach him at (404) 892-1995. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, member NASD/SIPC.