Is a Financial Planner right for me?



There are many things to consider when looking for a professional who can help you meet your goals. It can seem overwhelming, especially when you consider that a relationship with a financial planner or advisor is a journey. It’s one that can start with a current goal — a new home, a wedding or retirement — but can grow and change as our lives do. And a good financial partner on this journey will encourage you to revisit your wealth plan, help ensure you’re on track and can even give you a nudge when you need it most. If you’re actively looking for some financial advice, great. Sometimes, that can be the most important first step. As for some questions you can ask, here are five that can help you get a sense of whether the financial planner is right for you.

1. What are your credentials?

There’s no shortage of money experts out there. Some go by “wealth advisor” or “financial planner”. The reality is almost anyone in Canada can call themselves a financial planner. Only Quebec requires that individuals hold their Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation before they can use that title. There are certainly other designations that a planner or advisor may hold — Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Personal Financial Planner (PFP) among them — but the CFP is one of the more common certifications in the industry. It’s important to understand if the person you’re working with has been specifically trained to build financial plans, and has a good understanding of taxes, estate planning and other issues related to your family’s financial needs. When you meet with an advisor, don’t feel shy to ask for their credentials.

2. How long have you been in business?

This is a key question people should ask, along with “How many clients do you have?”. While the answer you wish to hear may depend on what you’re looking for, you may wish to work with someone you can relate to, who thinks like you, has similar life experience to you and has the training and accreditation to help you. However, while some of us put a premium on experience, others may respond better to knowledge or relatability.

3. How do you get paid?

Many good planners will raise this issue up front. In Canada, planners and advisors can be paid in a number of ways, but two very common ones are commission-based and fee-based. If it’s commission-based, your planner will receive compensation from the products you buy. You won’t actually pay directly for the services they provide, and while that’s been the status-quo in financial planning for many years, some find it challenging to calculate the full amount they’re paying monthly or annually. In a fee-based arrangement, you would pay a total amount based on the value of assets being managed. It can provide some transparency and a direct line of sight to exactly what you are paying for the services provided. Regardless of how a planner gets paid, they should be able to say, “This is how I’m compensated, this is how and where you will find it on your statements, and this is what you will receive in exchange.”

4. What services do you offer?

This goes hand-in-hand with any discussion of fees: What are you getting for your money? For me the value of working with a planner or advisor is rarely about beating a benchmark or index. It’s about helping you to make decisions and connecting you with the tools and resources that will best help you reach your wealth goals. A planner should be able to advise you on each of the four major areas of your financial plan: building your net worth, implementing tax-efficient strategies, helping you protect what matters and leaving a legacy for future generations. That may mean your planner is trained to help you deal with business issues or estate and tax planning, or they can provide access to people who do. Either way, you should ask what’s on offer and available to you.

5. How often will I hear from you?

Your ability to understand the plan you’ve set out, stick to it and adjust when necessary will be key to your success. But each of us is unique, and each of us may have different needs in terms of communication. Some may panic every time the market drops or international tensions arise and may appreciate a call or a note from their planner or wealth advisor. Others are fine with a regularly scheduled check-in. At the very least, look for a commitment to get an annual progress review to make sure any plan remains relevant and are on-track to meet your established goals.

These are five questions that you may want to ask your planner. The reality is, the answers you’re looking for will be based on your personality and your needs. Above all else, you can look for someone who will give you confidence that they’re going to partner with you in drafting an action plan and help you achieve the wealth goals that matter to you.

Steve Inskip, MBA, is a Regional Vice President for Greater Ontario Region at TD Wealth. He has over 20 years of experience in retail banking, commercial banking and wealth planning. He is a proud father of two young boys and, when he's not on the road for work, he can be found coaching at the local hockey rink or soccer pitch.