By Richard W. Stout III
We have no lack of options these days. Whether it’s choosing a restaurant or finding a doctor, there are so many choices that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When it comes to choosing a financial planner, the stakes are even higher. How do you know which one will be the right fit for your situation or personality? How do you know if you’ll like them or work well with them?
The financial professional you choose to handle your family’s wealth will have a significant impact on your investment strategy, the fees you pay, and your confidence in your financial future. This is not a decision to take lightly, especially since each planner has a different level of service, experience, and ability. Taking all that into consideration, it’s vital to take your time to find a planner that meets your needs and makes you feel at ease. When you start your search, asking potential candidates the following questions will help you gain a better understanding of who they are and how they do business.
1. Are You a Fiduciary?
There’s a reason this is the first question—its importance cannot be overstated! A planner who serves as a fiduciary accepts a responsibility to put his or her clients’ interests first and foremost in all decisions. A fiduciary is legally required to avoid conflicts of interest and remain unbiased in their recommendations and advice.
How can you know for certain that a planner you’re interviewing is a fiduciary? The firm will either be listed as a Registered Investment Advisor or the advisors on the team will hold certifications that hold them to the fiduciary standard, such as the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Chartered Financial Analyst®, or Certified Public Accountant professional designations. Keep in mind, if the financial planner doesn’t fit those descriptions, they may still act as a fiduciary in certain situations, like sharing a recommendation, but not necessarily when selling products.
Benchmark Wealth Management is a Registered Investment Advisory firm and abides by the fiduciary standard of professional conduct. We do what we say and finish what we start—all for your benefit.
2. What Credentials Do You Hold?
Credentials and education play a critical role in your planner’s competence. There are hundreds of designations in the financial services field, and some are more applicable to your needs than others. (1)
Advisors on our team hold the CFP® certification, which requires comprehensive education and experience. In addition, our team members hold other credentials, including the Accredited Investment Fiduciary® (AIF®), Certified Investment Management Analyst® (CIMA®), and Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠, CRPC® designations. We pursue education and credentials because of our commitment to continuous learning and dedication to providing unparalleled client service.
Use a designation-check database to learn more about the credentials financial planners can earn, and ask the planners you are researching what they do to continually hone their skills and stay up to date in the industry.
3. What Is Your Planning and Investment Philosophy?
It’s important to work with a financial planner who shares a planning and investing philosophy similar to your own. Does your planner stick to a scientific, evidence-based approach? Do they believe in buy-and-hold or do they move to cash when the market looks shaky? Talk with a financial planner about how they guide clients’ investing and financial decisions.
At Benchmark Wealth Management, we know that a sound asset allocation strategy is a key way to turn your wealth into new ways to live your best life. Our investment strategies are customized to your unique goals and needs so you can maximize your growth while protecting your wealth. We utilize passive investments, adopting sound processes and empirically driven solutions, which allows us to focus on what we can control while reducing the risk and stress to the extent possible surrounding what cannot be controlled.
Our personalized approach to financial management is the foundation of our services, taking into account both your individual goals and your entire financial situation. Before we look at any numbers or dive into strategizing, we get to know you and what you want out of life. We ask deep questions and seek to understand the nuances of your financial situation. As time goes on, we compound our understanding of you and your needs, allowing us to deliver independent,
objective, and tailored strategies that help you rest easy today and in the long term.
4. How Are You Compensated?
Financial planning and investment costs can be confusing, and often financial planners don’t readily disclose their fees. As fee-based planners, our clients always know what they’re paying and what they’re receiving for their money. We want our clients to feel comfortable with their strategies and confident that there are no hidden fees eating away at their hard-earned savings.
At Benchmark, we are compensated by an assets under management (AUM) fee, which is paid quarterly, based on the value of your assets. There are no other hidden costs from us and we do not earn money through commissions.
5. Who Do You Serve?
Some financial planners focus on serving a specific demographic or level of investable assets, so you’ll want to find this out before choosing a planner. Why is this important? Because you deserve advice and services tailored to your unique needs.
Our clients are high-net-worth individuals who come to us for help because they desire a customized, disciplined strategy and a holistic approach to managing their assets and reaching their realistic long-range goals. Our clients expect and deserve the highest level of personalized service and care. To support this commitment, we limit our relationships to ensure that we can deliver proactive planning, investment management, and concierge-level client service consistently and dependably. Tom Britt’s requirement for new client relationships is $2 million or greater. Rick Stout’s requirement for new client relationships is $5 million or greater. Limiting new relationships in this manner enables us to safeguard the service experience our existing clients know and appreciate while ensuring an exceptional service experience for new clients. Because we prioritize personal relationships with our clients, relationships that often extend for generations, many of our clients find their way to us through referrals from existing clients. We serve clients of different ages and from a variety of professions, including business owners, professionals, entrepreneurs, executives, and retirees. Despite their differences, they have all worked hard for their wealth and created their own path to success.
6. Who Will I Be Working With?
At some firms, you may work with multiple financial planners depending on your appointment time or needs, while other firms may pair you up with one financial planner with whom you’ll work one-on-one. This is important to know so you can meet the team members with whom you might be collaborating.
You will build a strong relationship with your primary planner at Benchmark, and we have stellar support staff in place to ensure you receive the highest level of service. Everyone at Benchmark works as a team. We spend a lot of time getting to know our clients and their goals, and we strive to put your dreams at the heart of your financial plan.
7. What Financial Planning Services Do You Offer?
Not all financial planners can provide comprehensive financial planning. Some cannot sell insurance or securities, such as mutual funds or stocks, if they don’t have the appropriate licenses. Ask a financial planner what services they provide, whether or not they have a focus or niche, and if they offer a broad spectrum of solutions to meet your needs. When creating a plan together, be sure to ask your planner why they are recommending particular services and solutions over others. Benchmark Wealth Management’s comprehensive services include retirement planning, asset management, cash flow analysis, estate planning, tax strategies, philanthropic strategies, and more.
8. What Sets You Apart From Other Financial Planners?
We know you have plenty of options to choose from, but there are a few things we do differently:
- We don’t use cookie-cutter plans or algorithmic technology to develop your investment portfolio. Our plans are centered around you and your life, and you can have confidence knowing that your future is being looked after.
- Our client relationships are built on integrity, dependability, and accountability. We are passionate about what we do and confident in how we do it.
- We provide a “white glove experience,” offering a level of care and attention to our clients that sets us apart. Our unparalleled service commitment means we treat every client as if they were our only client. We communicate regularly, remain accessible, and are with you on this financial journey every step of the way.
- Our specialized expertise allows us to develop plans that maximize the resources available to you, reduce taxes, prepare for retirement, and protect your family. Instead of trying to be your own financial planner, worrying something will slip through the cracks, or making innocent mistakes, you can rest assured that someone you trust is carrying your financial burden and watching out for your future like it’s their own.
9. How Do We Meet??
These days it’s not unusual for firms to offer both in-office and virtual appointments. If you’re someone who travels a lot, you may prefer a planner who is easily accessible in a virtual environment. For those who prefer a more personal touch, make sure the planner is someone who is available to meet in their office.
At Benchmark, in-person meetings are welcome and encouraged. We enjoy the opportunity to see our clients in person and believe this is an important part of our relationship with them. We do understand, however, that time is valuable and that it can be difficult to get away. Our services and systems have been designed so that all of the information you need to understand your finances are accessible to you at any time via eMoney and Schwab Alliance. With this accessibility, we can easily have impactful conversations about your finances virtually or via telephone, without the need for you to leave your home or office, thus disrupting your routine.
10. How Will I Know if Your Firm Is Right for Me?
When selecting your planner, the relationship should feel right, and you should never feel pressured to make a decision quickly. We offer a complimentary consultation during which you can ask questions, evaluate our processes and services, determine if our personality is a good fit, and get the information you need to make an informed decision.
Don’t Rush Into Anything
A financial planner should be happy to answer these questions—and any others—about how they do business. If you don’t know where to start, ask friends and family for referrals to set you down the right path.
At Benchmark Wealth Management, working with us is about the experience. It’s at the core of what we do and why we exist. If you’d like to learn more about who we are and what we do, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for an introductory meeting by contacting us at 860.434.6890 or emailing email@example.com to schedule a consultation.
Richard W. Stout III is managing director of Benchmark Wealth Management, LLC, with 25 years of experience in the financial industry. He specializes in financial planning and asset management for individuals, families, and institutions seeking to build and monitor durable and sustainable plans for their financial futures. Rick is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and holds the Accredited Investment Fiduciary® (AIF®) designation. He obtained his MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his BA in Economics and Anthropology from the University of Connecticut. He has earned a Master of Science degree in Personal Financial Planning from the College for Financial Planning. He has extensive background experience in lending, credit review and analysis, and real estate and partnership management. Learn more about Rick by connecting with him on LinkedIn.
Additional information, including management fees and expenses, is provided on our Form ADV Part 2, available upon request or at the SEC’s Investment Advisor Public Disclosure site, www.iapd.com, searching with our company name or unique identifier, CRD # 160192. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.
Securities offered by Registered Representatives through Private Client Services, Member FINRA, SIPC in the following states: AZ, CA, CT, FL, KY, MA, ME, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, RI, TX. (Securities-related services may not be provided to individuals residing in any state not previously listed) Advisory services offered through Benchmark Wealth Management, LLC a Registered Investment Advisor. Benchmark Wealth Management and Private Client Services are unaffiliated entities.