Get "Samples" from Advisors, but Don't Expect Something for Nothing

The advisor is selling you a service; he or she should be able to show you what it looks like. An insurance agent can show you a needs analysis, a real estate agent can show you houses she has sold and the listings and ads she writes, and a financial planner can give you a sample plan.

A sample lets you see what you ultimately will be paying for. Many financial advisors have taken real plans and changed the names to Prince Charming and Cinderella or to John and Jane Doe; others give you real plans, but black out the names and addresses.

You should also come away with an advisor's regulatory paperwork, anything he or she needs to give you by law or should give you to understand the scope of his or her practice.
Many will send this to you in advance, but don't be afraid to ask for the documents (Interviewing a Financial Planner, Interviewing a Broker, Interviewing a Money Manager, and Interviewing an Insurance Agent tell you what documents to ask for).

When you do your multiple interviews, you will be able to compare these samples side by side and see who is talking your language and whose work is over your head. You can see sample investment choices and the logic behind certain decisions. Be sure you know what the services exemplified by the sample would cost in real life.

If you think that an advisor will solve all your problems in the initial meeting (and at no charge) -- or that you can apply the sample advice to your specific situation -- you will be disappointed. You may get some free counsel -- most advisors can't help themselves -- but you shouldn't expect fast, free help.

The initial meeting is not supposed to leave you with answers to everything, it is only supposed to help you answer one question: "Is this advisor the right one for me?"
By Chuck Jaffe
Chuck Jaffe is a senior columnist and host of two weekly podcasts at MarkWatch. He has also been a guest speaker on several television and radio shows.

Copyrighted 2020. Content published with author's permission.

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