There’s a lot to be said for a personal recommendation: Letting your neighbors vet a plumber can save you a trip into the sinkhole that is internet reviews.
It helps, though, that your pipes don’t require a great deal of personalization. A plumber doesn’t ask your toilet about its hopes and dreams before dismantling it to find the leak.
Financial advice is a different story. And yet, when seeking that advice, you may be tempted to blindly turn to your parents’ — or another relative’s — longtime financial advisor.
Is that always a mistake? No. But it’s also not a given that your parents’ advisor is a good fit for you and your finances. It’s wise to look beyond those relationships and do your own due diligence.
Dig into fees and conflicts of interest
“My parents had a financial advisor, and when I was starting off in my career, I quickly realized she was incentivized to sell investment products instead of giving holistic advice that would benefit me,” says Charles Ho, a certified financial planner and founder of Legacy Builders Financial in Folsom, California. “Unfortunately, this is more the rule than the exception.”
You should approach any advisors — whether they have a relationship with your parents or not — with two questions: “Are you fee-only?” and “Are you a fiduciary?”
“Fee-only” means the advisor is paid by you directly, and only by you; he or she is not paid commissions to offer certain financial products. Fee-only advisors are typically fiduciaries, which means they must have your best interests in mind when recommending investments. Advisors who are “fee-based” generally are paid commissions alongside a fee from you — and typically aren’t fiduciaries. (Read more about the difference between fee-only and fee-based advisors.)
“Many people may call themselves a fiduciary, but if you really want to make sure they are, get it in writing,” Ho advises.
Do a compatibility check
Your parents may love their financial advisor, but that doesn’t mean you will. Chemistry is key in this relationship. You want an advisor who can relate to your life stage and financial situation.
“Advisors typically grow along with their client base, living similar lives to their clients’ — they can relate and empathize to their life experiences as they are going through them,” says Marcel Winger, a certified financial planner and founder of Mutual Wealth in Austin, Texas.
If that kind of empathy isn’t there, you may hesitate to bare your finances. Honesty is fundamental in an advisor-client relationship: If you leave out key details, you’ll sell yourself, your finances and the advisor short. Some people struggle with that level of transparency no matter what; when an advisor spans the family, it can be even more difficult.
» Learn more about how to choose a financial advisor
Consider new alternatives
Gone are the days when you needed a six-figure bank account to get access to investment advice. While many financial advisors still focus exclusively on high net worth clients, investors with fewer assets have more options than ever:
Fee-only financial planners who charge by the hour or by the plan: You can find these through advisor associations like the Garrett Planning Network and XY Planning Network. Because they charge a flat fee rather than a percentage of the assets they manage, they have less incentive to serve only clients with large account balances.
Robo-advisors: These are digital investment management services. They often have low or no investment minimums, so you can get started with a modest amount. And they can cost significantly less than a human advisor — you might pay a robo-advisor 0.25% of your balance, while a typical financial advisor who charges a percentage of your assets will cost 1% or more. (Here’s more about robo-advisors.)
Robo-advisors are a particularly good option for investors who don’t have complicated financial situations and don’t need or want a lot of hand-holding. (Many of them do offer access to human financial advisors to answer questions.)
You might consider using a robo-advisor to get started with investing now, then evaluate whether working with a human advisor is a better fit later, as your financial life becomes more complex.