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How To Find A Financial Professional

Eric Hutchinson | Monday, June 1st, 2009

In a world of increasingly complex financial and economic markets and changing tax laws that can impact the amount of return you receive from your investments, the fact is that most of us could, at one time or another, use some professional financial help and guidance.

“Do it yourself” is a concept that is as American as apple pie. While many of us have probably attempted some form of “do it yourself” activity, there are times when we realize that the research, tools and experience needed to get the job done right require professional assistance. A case in point is organizing your finances. Here are a few tips for finding a financial professional who will suit your needs.

Understanding the Field

Financial professionals may work independently or in groups. They may be independent contractors or may be employed by brokerage firms, banks, insurance companies or mutual fund complexes. Depending on their training and expertise, they may offer advice and assistance on issues such as: setting up and maintaining a budget; reducing taxes; developing and implementing a retirement, estate or charitable giving plan; the appropriateness of specific investment mutual funds, insurance products or other investment vehicles.

One way of identifying the special expertise of a financial advisor is to examine the professional certifications or accreditations he or she has received. These accreditations are earned by completing a series of courses and tests. The most common credentials include:

 CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter) for life insurance professionals;
 CPA (Certified Public Accountant) for tax planning professionals; and
 CFP and ChFC (Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Financial Consultant, respectively)

These are well-respected financial industry certifications given to financial professionals who have proven their knowledge of a wide range of financial planning and investment topics, including estate planning, tax planning, retirement planning and portfolio management.

Finding the Right Person

You may find professional financial help by attending seminars, asking the advice of a friend or professional adviser-such as your lawyer or accountant-or contacting one of the professional organizations that confer specialized financial industry credentials. Before beginning to work with any financial advisor, however, ask for a preliminary interview so that you can check their training and credentials and make sure that you feel comfortable with them. Most reputable professionals will consent to an interview or initial consultation without charge.

Establishing Trust

To best serve your needs, a financial professional must understand your current financial circumstances and obligations, as well as your goals and future needs. Therefore you must select someone who you feel you can trust with your personal documents and financial information. Most financial professionals will begin by reviewing your tax records, insurance policies, investment statements and other relevant documents. If necessary, they will also consult with your accountant or lawyer. They will want to talk to you about your investing history and your tolerance for risk, as well as about any special family circumstances that could have a financial impact.

Asking the Right Questions

It is important to understand at the outset how a professional will charge for services. Will there be a fee based on assets, an hourly rate, and/or commissions on products purchased?

You will also need to know how much time and attention you will receive on an ongoing basis. What will you be asked to provide? What reports will you receive? Will the professional work with your lawyer, accountant or other advisors to handle complex estate or tax matters?

The bottom line is that you have to be comfortable with the financial professional you select. Ask whatever you feel you need to know. Make sure that you will feel comfortable talking to this person and trust them to listen and exert the time and concern needed to make recommendations that will have a positive impact on your personal financial situation.

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Eric Hutchinson, CFP®, CLU is President of Hutchinson Financial, an independent Registered Investment Advisory firm based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Founded in 1988, the firm specializes in retirement planning and is one of the area’s leading independent financial planning and investment management firms.

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