You’ve taken that important first step of making an appointment to meet with an investment professional about your retirement plan. Now what?
You need to compile a list of questions to ask so you can decide whether you want to work with them. Remember, retirement is a marathon, not a sprint. That means you’ll be working with a financial pro for a long time, so you want to choose the right person. Unfortunately, most people spend more time finding a new pair of shoes than finding that right fit with an investment professional.
You should be picky—not all investing professionals are created equal! So what are some good questions to help you find the right person to work with? Here are a few to consider.
- What training and experience do you have? Look for a financial professional who has weathered the ups and downs of the market. You want someone who can ease your fears and keep you investing no matter what is going on in the financial world. Over time, most funds make money, but you need patience and self-control when they’re not doing so well.
- What licenses do you currently hold? Are you registered with the state, the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission), or FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority)? Federal and state laws require investment professionals and their companies to be licensed or registered. This protects your money against fraud and unethical behavior.
- What is your investment philosophy? You want to work with someone who believes in investing for the long term. Also, look for someone who offers you a diversified portfolio of investments with a long history of success. If you hear the words “time the market” or “single stocks,” that joker isn’t worth your time or money.
- What is one investing mistake you’ve made in the past? This may seem like a weird question. What you want is an honest answer, one way or the other. If the person you’re meeting avoids answering this question, that should be a red flag!
- How do you get paid? This question can be tricky because there’s not an industry standard. Investing pros can be paid by commissions, sales charges, commissions plus fees or even salary plus bonus. Watch out for a conflict of interest—like if they get a bonus for pushing one fund over another.
If the answer you get doesn’t make sense, keep asking questions until you understand. If the person you’re interviewing gets cagey or defensive, or if they get impatient with your questions, walk away. You get to choose who you work with.
- Do you or your firm require any minimum account balances? If so, what are they? Some financial professionals will only work with people who have a certain amount of money to invest. Some automated online investing services work the same way. A bigger portfolio means more money for them.But don’t get discouraged. Not all professionals are like that. Some are willing to work with you if you’re starting out or your account is small. These investing pros know that with hard work and dedication, you could become one of those everyday millionaires.
- Who else in your office will handle my account? You need to know if a secretary, intern or other office staff will see your information, including your Social Security number. Make sure you feel comfortable with everyone in the office, not just your primary contact.
When you meet with the person, take notes. You’ll get a lot of information, and you may get confused with the jargon and numbers. Your notes help you keep track of what’s being said and who says it, which is important if you meet with several financial pros before choosing one. And taking notes shows how serious you are—and they may devote more of their time and energy because they know you’re not taking this lightly.
Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty or bad for asking a lot of questions. It’s YOUR money, so you have the right to ask questions and make an informed decision. You can even ask for references, although they’re not required to provide them. And if you ever feel uneasy or uncomfortable, trust your instincts and go with someone else.
Asking questions is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you’re wise enough not to act quickly or blindly. And choosing the right investing professional could mean thousands more in your retirement fund.
Your future is too important to leave your questions unanswered.