Should I break the ice with a great (terrible) joke? What questions should I ask to find out if we have anything in common? And…are they the one?
Other than a change of venue and (maybe) the drinks on offer, your first meeting with your financial adviser is actually fairly similar to a first date. You get the chance to ask each other questions, see if there’s chemistry and, ultimately, work out if you want to build a relationship going forward.
And it’s a relationship that will hopefully support you through the ups and downs of your professional and personal life — career changes, market movements, family events and, finally, retirement.
People take their relationships with financial services very seriously. According to Tandem Bank, you’re actually more likely to get divorced than you are to change your bank provider. And so it’s important to get it right.
What sort of questions should you be asking, then?
I’ve compiled a list of ones that I think are key to ask in that all important first meeting with potential financial planners (ourselves included! In fact, many of these are actually questions our own clients have asked us).
1. What services do you offer? And how often can I access them?
The services on offer can vary widely from planner to planner. Some focus on one specific area, such as mortgages, while others look at all aspects of your situation — what you might call ‘holistic’ financial planning.
It’s also important to find out how often you’ll touch base with your planner and whether you’d prefer to have an annual check-up or more regular contact. This typically varies from one adviser to the next.
Financial planning is personal — make sure you understand where your adviser can help you and, more importantly, where they can’t.
2. How do your charges work?
To avoid any surprise fees down the line, get to the nitty gritty sooner rather than later.
Make sure you understand all of the charges you’ll be paying; this is often broader than the cost for your adviser’s time or the solutions they select for you, and can include costs levied by third parties.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that whilst charges (high or low) are an important factor in any decision, they might not always be the most important. There are many reasons why fees may vary (different services on offer, for example) so make sure you know exactly what it is you’re paying for.
3. What makes you different? (Impress me!)
With lots of advisers out there, it makes sense to shop around and weigh up a few different options. One size doesn’t fit all.
The key is to get to the crux of the value each firm believes it can offer you for putting your trust in their business. If it can’t be articulated easily, it’s probably not a great start.
4. How can I track my progress?
Some advisers offer something called cash flow modelling. This process allows you to see the projected impact of how the decisions you make today will affect your wealth and goals in the future. It’s a really useful way of judging whether you’re on track to hit the objectives you have for yourself and your family, and where changes need to be made.
Those with a digital offering will most likely have an interactive online platform that you can use to see how you’re doing. This might incorporate real-time data from your savings projected against the goals you care about — retirement, buying that dream home, or helping your kids through university.
Which brings me nicely onto my next question…
5. Do you offer a digital service?
Some advisers will offer a traditional (paper-based) service for communications, others will offer a digital service, and in some cases, some will offer both.
As with other industries, there’s been a move towards paperless offerings in the form of online platforms and apps that tend to offer clients a greater deal of autonomy over their own financial planning experience.
Whether you prefer traditional pen and paper or want to work solely online is a personal choice. It’s definitely something to consider before you take the plunge, so you avoid ending up with a financial adviser whose preference is different to your own.
6. Can you work around my lifestyle?
If you’re someone with a busy schedule who works irregular hours or has a lot of commitments, finding time to fit in a quick catch-up with your planner can be a nightmare.
One of the key takeaways from your first date should be finding out exactly how they like to work, and whether that’s around your schedule or theirs.
If convenience is at the top of your list, choosing a planner with a strong digital offering (skype calls, digital forms) may be your best bet.
7. What happens if I don’t like your service?
Although we always hope for the best, sometimes things don’t work out.
If you and your financial planner were to ‘break up’, how easy would it be for you to leave? And would there be any hefty costs for doing so?
Knowing the answer to these questions at the start could save potential heartache further down the line.
And some important questions for you to answer…
Do I like the person I am sitting opposite? And do I think they understand my goals and objectives?
The best relationships are almost always built on mutual trust and involve both parties pulling in the same direction. If you think your adviser understands you and what you are trying to achieve, you could be on to a winner.
Most importantly, though, just be discerning. After decisions about your health and family, this could be one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. You only get one chance to have a first date, so use it wisely!