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10 Questions to Ask Your Planner

These questions will help you interview and evaluate several financial planners to find a competent, qualified professional with whom you feel comfortable and whose business style suits your financial needs.

Don't be afraid to ask these and any other questions you feel need a full and open answer. Any professional will welcome them.

1. What are your qualifications?

Ask the planner what her qualifications are to offer financial advice and if, in fact, she is a qualified planner. Ask what training she has successfully completed. Ask what steps she takes to keep up with changes and developments in the financial planning field and the financial services industry at large. Ask whether she holds any professional credentials or designations.

2. What experience do you have?

Experience is an important consideration in choosing any professional. Ask how long the planner has been in practice; inquire about what experience the planner has in dealing with people in similar situations to yours and whether he has any specialized training. Choose a financial planner who has at least two years experience counselling individuals on their financial needs.

3. What services do you offer?

The services a financial planner offers will vary and depend on her credentials, registration, areas of expertise and the organization for which she works. Some planners offer financial planning advice on a range of topics but do not sell financial products. Others may provide advice only in specific areas such as estate planning or taxation. Those who sell financial products such as insurance, stocks, bonds and mutual funds, or who give investment advice, must be registered with provincial regulatory authorities and may have specialized designations in these areas of expertise.

4. What is your approach to financial planning?

The types of services a financial planner will provide vary from organization to organization. Some planners prefer to develop detailed financial plans encompassing all of a client's financial goals. Others choose to work in specific areas such as taxation, estate planning, insurance and investments. Ask whether the individual deals only with clients with specific net worth and income levels, and whether the planner will help you implement the plan she develops or refer you to others who will do so.

5. Will you be the only person working with me?

It is quite common for a financial planner to work with others in his organization to develop and implement financial planning recommendations. Financial planners often work with other professionals, like lawyers and accountants. You may want to meet everyone who will be working with you.

6. How will I pay for your services?

Your planner should disclose in writing how she will be paid for the services she will provide. Planners can be paid in several ways, including commission, salary and fee-for-service.

7. How much do you typically charge?

Although the amount you pay the planner depends on your particular needs, the financial planner should be able to provide you with an estimate of possible costs based on the work to be performed. Such costs would include the planner's hourly rates or flat fees, or the percentage he would receive as commission on products you may purchase as part of the financial planning recommendations.

8. Could anyone besides me benefit from your recommendations?

Ask the planner to provide you with a description of her conflicts of interest in writing, for instance, any business relationship with the companies or ownership interest in any company that supplies financial products sold by the planner and the planner's employer.

9. Are you regulated by any organization?

Financial planners who sell financial products such as securities and insurance or who provide investment advice are regulated by provincial regulatory authorities and may also subscribe to a code of ethics through a professional association. Individuals in the accounting and legal professions are usually members of professional bodies that govern their fields. Planners who hold CFP® certification are subject to disciplinary proceedings of the Financial Planning Standards Council, the body that enforces that CFP Code of Ethics.

It's a fair question to ask if he has ever been the subject of disciplinary action by any regulatory body or industry association. You can verify the answer by contacting the relevant organization; some organizations have a searchable function on their websites, such as the Check a CFP Professional tool on the FPSC website. Ask the financial planner whether he subscribes to a professional code of ethics such as the Certified Financial Planner Code of Ethics.

10. Can I have it in writing?

Ask the planner to provide you with a written agreement that details the services that will be provided. Keep this document in a secure place for future reference.

Adapted with permission from the Financial Planning Standards Council. For full details on these important questions, please visit the Financial Planning Standards Council website.

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