This Saturday, San Francisco residents will have the opportunity to receive free financial planning advice from over 100 Certified Financial Professionals. The San Francisco Financial Planning Day is sponsored by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, the Financial Planning Association, the Foundation for Financial Planning, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Over 100 Certified Financial Planners will be on site at UC Hastings from 9am-4pm offering free financial planning guidance. Free Financial Planning? What’s the catch? We caught up with Lynn Ballou, a Lafayette-based Certified Financial Planner and CFP Board Ambassador and Ingrid Robinson, the organizing lead from the Financial Planning Association to get some answers.
I thought financial planning was just for people with tons of investable assets. I’m just starting out, what can financial planning do for me?
Lynn Ballou (LB): We believe there’s a financial planner for anyone who needs help. I often work with existing clients’ children who are graduating from college to help them put together a plan. A financial planner is someone who can bring all the pieces of your financial life together and help you achieve your goals. There are fee-only planners for people who just want help out of specific situations, and NAPFA, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors has a directory of their members who consist solely of fee-only advisors.
I don’t want to be marketed to, I just have a couple questions nagging at me – will the certified financial planners be trying to sell me products?
Ingrid Robinson (IR): The financial planners who are volunteering for this event are not even allowed to give out their business cards. This is a purely volunteer event for the community to take advantage of free financial planning services. There will also be a full day of workshops for those who just want to come and get educated.
I looked into getting a financial advisor before – everyone seems to have some sort of designation after their names, CFP, CFA, ChFC. It’s hard to tell who I should trust. Why is the CFP a designation that should give me confidence?
LB: It’s true, there are so many designations out there. I’m a first-generation CFP, and I hope that the CFP will eventually be the designation of choice because it signifies that someone voluntarily went through a rigorous set of coursework, obtained at least 3 years of planning-related experience, and is subjecting themselves to an ongoing ethics requirement. In an industry that doesn’t require a single certification, why would someone voluntarily choose to do the work to get the designation unless they’re committed to helping people?
So, let’s say I’m convinced about the need for financial planning, and I decide to start looking for a financial planner. How should I think aboute evaluating potential candidates? I’m not a finance person.
LB: There are three things I’d recommend doing:
- Make a list of what you want out of the relationship with your advisor. Is this a one-off? (i.e. making a plan to get out of debt) An ongoing relationship? (someone to provide ongoing investment advice?)
- Think about your own views about money – what are the goals you are trying to accomplish, what are your financial priorities?
- Make a short list of people who are qualified in your area (you can use the CFP board directory) and then set up phone calls/introductory meetings with them. Ask them for case studies of other people in similar situations. You can even ask to speak with references.
It is a personal and long-term relationship, and it’s important to see if you feel that there’s a good fit, hence the importance of a live call/meeting.
I think I might check out Financial Planning Day. What documents should I bring to ensure a productive conversation with a planner?
IR: If you have a tax question, bring your last tax return. If you have a debt issue, bring whatever you feel can help shed light on your situation. The important thing is to bring documents that relevant to the situation you want to discuss.
This is a great opportunity to attend workshops and get insight into what a financial planner can do for you. It may turn out that you have the basics in place, and don’t need ongoing paid help – but maybe you do. This event allows you to meet many planners in one location, get your questions asked, and to follow-up if necessary. Get on down to Snodgrass Hall at UC Hastings this Saturday, Oct 20!