Choosing Investment Advisers and Financial Planners

A recent survey conducted by The Nasdaq Stock Market indicates that stock ownership among the general public has doubled in the past seven years (43% of American adults). The demographics of investors have changed dramatically, with investing no longer the exclusive province of the elderly, affluent, or male. Forty-seven percent of investors are women. Of the women investors, 45 percent say they are the ones primarily responsible for making the investment decision in their households. A majority of investors (55%) are under the age of 50, and one half are not college graduates. Most working-age investors describe themselves as blue or white collar workers (35%) rather than manager/professionals (29%). Ten percent are homemakers.

Americans are realizing that they hold the key and bear the responsibility for their own financial futures. Relying on government or an employer probably won't suffice in the future. As consumers, we constantly face changes in the economy which can create confusion in our financial lives. Inflation, constantly changing tax laws, the increasing volatility of investments, and other factors beyond our control can disrupt plans and budgets. Growing concerns are prompting many people to seek the help of a financial professional.

Questions arise as to how you identify a competent financial adviser who can assist you. The selection of any professional can be done best by following a step-by step search process. You should select a financial adviser by checking his or her credentials, experience, reputation and qualifications. Then, identify your primary needs in seeking financial advice in order to evaluate each financial adviser you meet based on his or her ability to help fulfill those needs. You should select an adviser who can provide the services you need, based on your financial situation and goals. Remember, you are paying this person to help you shape your financial future. It is your responsibility and right to fully investigate the financial adviser's background, methods of practice and credentials.

The term "investment adviser" indicates a business or person with specialized focus on investment planning. Investment advisers must be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the state securities regulator where the investment adviser is based.

A 'financial planner' can be a stockbroker, investment adviser or someone who prepares a financial plan that may or may not include securities. Generally, if a financial planner gives advice regarding securities, the person is considered an Investment Adviser.

Before hiring a financial adviser, here are some tips to follow:

  • Decide what you want from a financial adviser. Are you looking for investment or estate-planning advice? Saving for retirement? Financing a child's college education? Defining your goals will make it easier to find an adviser who meets your needs.
  • Ask people you trust for recommendations. As well as family or friends, your accountant, lawyer or banker may be able to help. However, you may want to ask if the recommending party is receiving a referral fee.
  • Interview several advisers before making a decision. Most won't charge for an initial consultation.
  • When you interview an adviser, bring a list of questions and write down the answers. If you have problems or disagreements later, you'll have a record of what was said.
  • Check the background of the firm or individual with the Iowa Securities Bureau @ 515-281-5705 or

Iowa Securities Bureau
601 Locust St. - 4th Floor
Des Moines, IA 50309-3738

Don't hesitate to contact references provided by the adviser.

Once you've selected an adviser, request a written contract or letter that outlines the services you expect and the adviser's commissions or fees.

Monitor your investments by reviewing your monthly statements and making sure your money is going where the adviser says it is. That's the best defense against fraud.

Basic questions to ask before you sign anything include:

  • How are you compensated?
  • Do you get a commission for recommending specific products?
  • If you charge a fee for services, how is the fee calculated?
  • Is there a cap on fees?
  • Does any member of your firm act as a general partner or receive compensation from investments you recommend?
  • What is your educational background?
  • How long have you been in the business?
  • What did you do before you became a financial adviser?
  • What are your special areas of expertise?
  • Will you provide me with a list of clients I can call for references?
  • Are you a Certified Financial Planner?
  • Do you belong to any professional organizations?
  • Have you ever been disciplined by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or other regulatory organization like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority?
  • Are you registered as an investment adviser with the SEC or any state regulator?
  • Who will handle my account and will it be handled by an individual or a team?
  • Where will my funds or securities be held?
  • Will you provide a written analysis of my finances and your recommendations?
  • Do you work with other professionals, such as lawyers, accountants and stockbrokers?
  • Do you pay them referral fees?
  • Once we have a plan, how often will we review its progress?
  • How often will we meet?

Smart investors will ask a lot of questions and learn as much as they can before they act. Remember, in dealing with a financial adviser you will be revealing a great deal about yourself and your financial status, so it is important to exercise great care in selecting someone qualified to meet your needs.

Additional investor education information is available from the Iowa Securities Bureau @ 515-281-5705 or 800-351-4665 or write to:

Iowa Securities Bureau
601 Locust St. - 4th Floor
Des Moines, IA 50309-3738

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