Financial Planner, Certified Financial Planner™, Financial Adviser, Financial Consultant, Wealth Manager, Money Manager, Stockbroker, Chartered Financial Analyst, Registered Investment Advisor, Chartered Life Underwriter – OMG! Whom should I hire?
I am not going to differentiate among all these titles because I am not a dictionary and am not even sure I can! I am going to outline what you should expect from a Certified Financial Planner™ and a comprehensive/holistic financial plan. Then, you can decide if that is what you need and want from a financial professional.
What is a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®)
A CFP® practitioner has met the CFP® Board’s education, examination, and experience requirements, which include completing the CFP® academic program, having a bachelor’s degree, passing the CFP® certification exam (2 days, 10 hours; it’s a doozy), and having at least 3 years of full-time, related work experience. CFP® practitioners adhere to high standards of ethical conduct and must meet continuing-education requirements to maintain their certification. CFP® practitioners have a fiduciary duty to make recommendations based on the “best interest” of their clients. Learn more at http://www.cfp.net/
What is a Comprehensive/Holistic Financial Plan?
Picture a puzzle of all your financial pieces – investments, retirement, estate, insurance, education, and taxes. A financial plan puts all these pieces together to show you where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there. The process goes something like this:
- Establish the relationship – sign an agreement so you both know what to expect from each other.
- Discovery – you and your planner figure out all your goals. Everyone wants to plan for retirement, but you might fail to plan for caring for your aging parents or for your own health care, which may impede the success of your plan. Also, your planner will ask for details of all your finances – the more you provide, the better your plan.
- Analyze – planner reviews your data, analyzes how well you are doing to meet your goals, and figures out what changes you can make to better achieve your goals.
- Presents the Plan – the plan puts all your pieces together and outlines recommendations to help you achieve your goals. For instance, your planner may recommend anything from maximizing your 401(k) contribution and buying a long-term care policy to a complex web of trusts and planned gifting to reduce your estate tax burden.
- Implementing Recommendations – usually your planner can implement some of the recommendations and/or refer you to someone who can. Or you can take your plan and shop around. Ideally, independent planners research products and prices so you can make the best informed decision to meet your needs. For instance, your planner might refer you to a couple mortgage brokers/banks so she or he can compare several good-faith estimates to help you decide whom to use.
- Monitor – life changes and investments do not perform as expected; a financial plan is a snapshot and must be monitored and reviewed to keep you on track. Your plan will probably have numerous action items that cannot all be done at once; you will have to prioritize. Each annual review, you and your planner will go over what you completed, possibly add new items to the list, and reprioritize. Financial planning is an ongoing process.
A financial planner is like a coach guiding you to make the best financial decisions to meet your specific goals and needs. There is not one product or investment that fits all – planners shop around, think outside the box, and advocate for your success. A good financial planner gets up close and personal, so interview a few to make sure you find a planner you trust and are willing to divulge your deepest, darkest secrets to – it goes well beyond your bank statements.
Gelasia Steed, CFP®
Ft. Worth, TX