What to Expect When You Sit Down With a Financial Advisor


When I was in school, I learned about a wide variety of topics. My teachers taught me what Gods the ancient Greeks worshiped. I received an introduction to psychology and philosophy principles. I even learned how to translate 15th century French literature. But the one topic my education never touched? Basic personal finance. Sure, there were low level explanations of how the United States treasury works, and there were some overarching economic principles thrown my way, but no one ever mentioned how to pay taxes properly or how to balance a checkbook. (I still don’t know what the point of balancing a checkbook is to be honest.)

But a funny thing happened. After college, I dove right into a career in the financial industry. Over the years, I have continued my unofficial financial education by writing about almost any money topic I can get my hands on. Credit scores, home loans, debt forgiveness — you name it, I’ve written about it. I’m very fortunate that my career encourages me to research financial topics on a weekly basis. Even so, I still have so much to learn. I’ve long wondered what it would be like to work with a financial advisor and if it was a worthwhile experience. So I thought, why not do a little digging to find out what to expect when you sit down with a financial advisor or planner?


What to Expect

Ben Barlowe works on education-based project at YNAB, an app designed to help you create a budget, stick to it, and gain control of your money. So basically, he thinks about money all day long. He believes that working with a financial advisor will help you with the process of “aligning your money with your priorities.” He recommends coming to a meeting with an advisor having a general idea of what you want your money to do for you. “Have an idea of what is really important to you in the near future. And really your priorities. I think it’s good for anybody, it’s a good exercise, especially when you’re starting to budget. The really hard work when it comes to budgeting is asking yourself, ‘What do I want my money to do for me?'” Barlowe advised.

What should you do to prepare for a meeting with a financial advisor? Barlowe recommends coming armed with any key information about your financial life, “‘Typically they want to get an idea of how much liquid assets you have and how much hard assets you have,” he said.


How Can They Help?

Investopedia refers to a financial advisor as a planning partner. While you can manage your finances on your own, there is no shame in wanting a little help. Your advisor can walk you through topics and processes relating to savings, what account you need, insurance, estate management, and planning for taxes. Part of their job is to educate you and help you understand what you’ll need to do to meet your financial goals. Depending on your needs, they may start with simpler concepts like budgeting, or move straight into complex topics like investing. You can choose how you work together and what topics to cover.


How to Find a Financial Advisor

Finding a new hairstylist you trust can feel like an impossible feat, so what does that mean for finding a financial advisor? Starting from scratch can feel overwhelming, but there are legitimate resources available to help you find the right advisor.

The Garrett Planning Network: This website will help you find a fee-only financial advisor (see more on why fees are better than commission below) anywhere in the United States. The advisors they list specifically cater to servicing those with middle-class incomes.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors: This website is essentially a search engine designed to help you find a financial advisor near you.

Robo advisors: Can’t afford to work with a financial advisor? You can always consider utilizing an automated portfolio management service. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is just one example. With them, there are no advisory or account management fees. And since there is no advisor, no one earns a commission. (You do need $5,000 to get started though.) These rules and fees will vary based off which robo advisor you choose to work with.


Important Questions to Ask

Before your hire a financial advisor, Nerd Wallet recommends asking the following questions.

What are the costs? It’s important to understand how the advisor is compensated and who compensates them. You should look for an advisor who only accepts fees, not one who earns commissions by selling you products.

Do they follow a fiduciary standard? Ask if they follow a fiduciary standard, which requires the advisor to act in the best interest of their client always. If they don’t, do not work with them.

Did you do a background check? No detective needed for this one. Before you take any financial advice, investigate the advisor or their firm’s qualifications and history using Form ADV. It’s a disclosure document that is free to utilize. It will unveil information such as their fee structure, firm history, management style, and any prior misconduct.


What the Benefits Are

Here’s the big question: how can you benefit from working with a financial advisor?

Knowledge: Right off the bat, the value of their knowledge is clear. Quite simply, they probably know more about a variety of complicated financial issues than you do. At the very least, they can give you peace of mind that you’re on the right tack. Barlowe agrees. “It’s just nice to have someone else in your corner,” he said.

Goals: They can help you set realistic and attainable financial goals. You can work through your plans for investing or saving for retirement together.

Time: Too busy to monitor the stock market? Some advisors can help you manage your investments — meaning you’ll check in occasionally, but they will handle the little day-to-day things like rebalancing your accounts.


Have you ever worked with a financial advisor?