What to look for — and ignore — when you’re hiring a financial planner


When searching for a financial planner, it's essential to carefully review the adviser's website and pay special attention to the "About Me" section. Many adviser bios share similar elements, often starting with a summary of their professional history and qualifications, including any media appearances. Personal anecdotes and explanations of their career choice are also typically included, creating a personable and relatable image. 

While these bios can be appealing, consumers need to approach them critically. Rui Yao, a personal financial planning professor at the University of Missouri, advises prioritizing what matters most to you and focusing on those aspects in an adviser's bio. For example, if you're looking for a skilled portfolio manager, pay attention to the adviser's investment philosophy and approach. Similarly, if you need assistance with student debt or retirement planning, look for expertise in those specific areas. 

Yao cautions against placing too much importance on an adviser's personal background, as it may not necessarily indicate their professional traits or capabilities. Instead, she recommends focusing on their career path, paying particular attention to any unexplained gaps in their job history. For instance, a gap for further education or caregiving might be understandable, but a gap related to disciplinary actions or regulatory issues could be a red flag.

Advisers may use their bios to boast about minor achievements or accolades, which shouldn't overshadow essential details about their experience and expertise. While inclusion on "Top 100" lists and other awards can be impressive, consumers should remain focused on gathering crucial information about the adviser's professional background.

It's also important to be cautious about advisers who emphasize high sales volumes or minor accomplishments. Instead, look for indications of selflessness and humility, such as long-term volunteer work or service-oriented roles.

Many advisers highlight their fiduciary status and commitment to placing the client's interests first. Consumers can verify this by looking for their involvement in organizations that promote the fiduciary standard and examining any published articles or conference presentations on the topic.

When it comes to professional designations, some carry more weight than others. Established certifications like CFP, CFA, and JD require significant effort to attain, while newer or less familiar designations may not hold the same level of credibility.

Finally, advisers are increasingly transparent about their personal values in their bios, from gender issues to religious affiliations. Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, encourages advisers to openly share their values, recognizing that consumers may prefer to work with someone who aligns with their own beliefs.  

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