Finding the right financial advisor to partner with from a practical standpoint has been, well, a source of much frustration for many CPAs we know. So we’re putting together a sketch of how accountants who want to expand their margins, offer a higher level of service to their clients, and grow their practices through partnering with a financial advisor should go about finding the right one.
#1 How is the advisor compensated?
The way an advisor is compensated can create conflicts of interest that influence how their clients – and your clients – will be treated.
Advisors can get paid in many ways, each bringing varying levels of objectivity. Some advisors are paid on commissions – either fully or partially. This may mean that the advisor is held to a suitability standard and must make sure that the recommendations he or she makes are proper given the client’s profile. However there is nothing to say that they are the most proper solutions available given the opportunity set, or that the client’s best interests are truly placed before the person advising him or her.
It would be a wise decision for accountants to consider fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) firms who work in the sole best interest of the client. These advisors are fiduciaries in the true sense of the word. They are obligated to put the client’s best interest before their own.
Because these advisors are paid the same regardless of what they recommend, you are less likely to have to worry about him or her suggesting that your client buy high fee insurance products or mutual funds when there are better, lower cost options available that would serve the client better.
Word to the wise: fee-based is not the same as fee-only. A fee-only advisor is a fiduciary who can not accept commissions while a fee-based advisor may accept either commissions or fees.
#2 Look at the depth of their team
Generally we recommend that accounting firms of a particular size, whether they be sole proprietors, small businesses, or medium sized enterprises, partner with financial advisor firms of similar size. This usually creates parity in terms of expectations, resources, and workload.
If you’re considering working with a financial advisor who is a one or two person operation, make sure that they have strong partnerships with outside firms to support their operations. What’s their contingency plan if the principal of the firm were to all of a sudden become incapacitated?
Small to medium sized financial advisor firms are great to work with because they offer a level of client service without being too big and full of “red tape.”
Word to the wise: Whether in-house or outsourced, an advisor firm should have a lead advisor and a team of supporting personnel such as compliance officer, research or portfolio analyst, marketing director, relationship manager, and an office manager.
#3 How are they offering to help you as a partner?
Accountants, and especially CPAs, are approached quite frequently by financial advisors because of the high degree of trust that people place in their accountant. How do you know who’s going to be a good partner?
Think about what they are offering you. Does it seem like this advisor is just in it to get a stream of referrals from you without any real intention to send business back? Does he or she already have an accountant they work with? If so, how deep is the relationship?
Also, look at how much attention the advisor is paying to how you run your business. Have they sat down with you and tried to understand how your clients like to be treated, what kinds of services you offer, and what your challenges are as a business? How are they proposing to help make things better and expand the opportunity set for you and your clients?
Word to the wise: These may seem like simple questions but knowing their true intentions in the beginning can save you many a headache.
#4 How do they market their firm?
You want to find an advisor who has the ability to go out and actively create new relationships, not just one who relies on referrals. That is because an advisor who relies on referrals may feel the need to tap other accountant relationships they have when you don’t send them as much business as they had hoped for.
Word to the wise: Look for an active sales funnel process whereby leads are moved through the prospecting process in an organized fashion. Social media and robust marketing never hurt, either.
#5 What questions do they ask a new client?
Ask the advisor to run through a mock interview with you where you pose as a new client and they run through the “getting to know you” meeting.
Are they asking questions that are too probing or personal for the first meeting? Are they too sales focused? Do they speak to you in a way that allows them to get to know what your true challenges and goals may be?
Word to the wise: First impressions count. If you don’t get the feeling that this advisor does a great job in the intro meeting, best to pass on the relationship. Don’t ignore your intuition - if you feel uncomfortable, so will your clients.