Building a short list of potential advisers.
In the third of Russell’s blogs, he advises on how to build your short list of potential financial advisers.
A blog from Russell Skinner, APFS CFP™ Chartered FCSI (Financial Planning)
Chartered Financial Planner and Managing Director of Blue Sky Financial Planning
Don’t just Google
There’s one thing to avoid in your initial search – Google.
Whilst good firms do appear on Google, the big brands and SEO savvy marketeers have commandeered the major search terms that put them at the top of Google – because they have budgets to do so!
If you need to test our assertion, try a quick Google search now using whatever search terms you think best. I can assure you; it’ll be like trying to find a needle in a haystack to identify anyone good.
Any search engine such as Google is a really challenging place to start your search and is more likely to overwhelm and confuse those seeking tailored, expert advice. Google though has got a lot of value later in the research process, just not as your first step.
Building a short list of possible firms makes sense, even if you’ve been recommended by an existing client. Their needs may be different to yours and that is very important to identify.
The aim of this approach is simply to get you to create a shorter list of ‘potential’ advisers or firms for you to dig into more deeply. Of course, we would recommend that this list includes specialist financial planning firms too so you can compare service (more on that in my next blog).
Step 1: Look up accredited Financial Planning firms
The accredited firms matter because they’ve got qualifications, experience and they’ve been vetted to some extent. Many other ratings or qualifications are not vetted properly (in my professional opinion).
Typically, accredited firms are also full of advisers who are very well qualified. The two important qualifications to look for are Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Chartered Financial Planner and some of the advisers you find will hold both.
If you reach out to any of these firms (do that only after you’ve completed a few more research steps detailed below), you can ask whether they work with people like you. Be ready to give some detail as this will speed up the process hugely.
It’s also important to note that there are plenty of other great advisers and firms that are not accredited Financial Planning firms. So, after completing your research, if you do find a firm you love that isn’t accredited, then don’t worry. There needs to be a meeting of minds so they are still in the running!
Step 2: Ask around (trusted friends, family and colleagues)
We know this isn’t always ideal, but friends, family and colleagues are worth asking as there may just be a prefect introduction waiting right there. However, it’s unlikely you can rely on the firms recommended without further research, but it might get some trusted firms on your shortlist that would have been difficult to find or identify in any other way initially.
Step 3: Ask one of your other professional advisers
If you have a good relationship with your solicitor or accountant, then it may be worth asking them for a personal recommendation.
However, while accountants are usually well connected, very few of them really understand financial planning and they can also end up inadvertently referring you to either a big, branded firm (which may or may not be a good fit) or to a smaller firm that might not be playing in the top tier of advice.
The result can be higher than necessary costs or poor advice. So, treat these names merely as names for now. We’ll show you how to dig deeper in a minute.
Step 4: Now it’s time to use Google
Having created your shortlist based on searching the FCA website and asking trusted contacts, now it’s time to put Google to work.
Google each firm by name and look at their website and connected sites (LinkedIn for example). The aim of the initial website search is to rule firms “in” or “out” based on what you find there. Some of this might be gut feel and that’s ok for now. As you look at each site, ask yourself:
- What’s your first impression?
- Do they mention what type of clients they specialise in, or work best with?
- Are they certified or have they won any awards?
- What can you learn about the team, are they well qualified?
- Do they provide services that you think you might require, and more?
- Are there any helpful videos or blogs that you can look at to get a better feel for the firm’s communication style and the people within it?
- Are their news items and communications up to date? Are they commenting on key topics?
- Are they exploring issues where you think to yourself “that’s me?”
As a result of your Google searches and considering some of these questions, you would expect to refine your potential firms to a much tighter selection.
Step 5: Making initial contact
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to two or three likely firms, it’s time to reach out and have an initial call or video conversation. Do that in whatever way works best for you – e.g., drop them an email or give them a call.
Although you’re making contact, this is still part of your initial evaluation and selection process. You’ve not yet decided to work with any of these firms and you shouldn’t be treated as such by the firm.
This initial enquiry process is also full of useful information for you make a note of:
- How responsive was the firm?
- Were they polite and professional?
- Was it easy to set up an initial call with a key adviser?
- On the call or on a subsequent call, did they ask you any interesting questions that got you thinking differently about your situation?
- Were they able to impart any snippets of insight or knowledge that showed you “they know their stuff”?
- Did they answer your initial questions and address any concerns that you raised appropriately?
By now you’ve accumulated a lot of information, formally and intuitively. Reflect on what you have learned and take time to consider your experience so far.
Who stacked up well and why?
The next step – a formal initial meeting
It’s important to remember that, in most cases, your next step will be to agree to a more formal initial meeting with a prospective firm. For most firms, this meeting will be at no cost to you, although you will be giving up your time (around an hour or so). Typically, it’s held face-to-face in the offices of the firm or via a video call (e.g., using Teams or Zoom). Your preference should be respected.
Go ahead and book a formal initial meeting with the firms that you feel comfortable with.
This is an opportunity to share your situation and gain insight into the adviser and firm. Ask as many questions as you feel comfortable with and make sure you understand the scope of the advice on offer.
See my next blog in this series for some great questions to ask your chosen adviser.
At the end of that initial meeting, you will typically be asked whether you’d like to engage the firm to obtain some advice for a fee. The fees should be totally transparent and understandable. Following the meeting you should be sent an e-mail confirmation of the expected costs.
You should be under no obligation or pressure to make a decision on engaging at the immediate conclusion of the initial meeting (although if you’re happy to make that commitment, then go right ahead). If you need more time to decide or wish to have an initial meeting with any other firms on your shortlist, do so.
Most quality firms will want to spend time really understanding you and your situation because financial advice needs to be provided in context with your broader life circumstances and goals. So don’t be put off by firms that take their time on this step – it’s a good sign.
Choosing the right adviser is an important decision, with long-term impact, so you want to get it right. However, meeting with lots of advisers will be very time-consuming and you might not want to spend that much time. It’s ok to go with someone you like straight away. Choosing an adviser has a lot to do with ‘fit’.
If you do decide to meet with more than one adviser, we’d recommend doing all your meetings in the same week if possible, so you’ve got a recent memory of events and feelings for comparison purposes. Failing that, take good notes immediately after each meeting and score the adviser on different factors that were important to you.
Deciding your next action – Implementation of advice
Having attended the first meeting(s) and done your Google research, you will now be able to decide who you want to engage and obtain some initial advice from.
Yes, there’ll be a cost and you should be prepared to pay reasonable professional fees for a good quality adviser.
After you’ve been through the customer journey (every firm’s is different) and have received recommendations, you can decide if you want to take things any further and implement any advice given.
If things have gone well and you’re happy with the advice, then you may well decide to go ahead with the recommendations made and become an ongoing client.
Becoming a client should mean that you will have regular review meetings (usually annually) to make any tweaks or changes to your financial plan and chosen products, and to ensure everything is on track as you work towards your goals.
Elements we’ve deliberately excluded…
There are a range of search website that aim to help you choose a financial adviser. The two most used ones are VouchedFor and Unbiased. The challenge with these sites is like the Google search problem we outlined earlier, the choice is huge and high rankings are a lot to do with how savvy the marketing teams are within the firms – rather than how good the advisers are.
In our opinion, the VouchedFor 5-star ratings are a useful additional research factor, so treat them like industry awards; that is, they’re useful in addition to other positive information, but on their own, not an iron-clad guarantee that you’ll be choosing a great adviser.
Search websites like these charge varying fees to those wishing to promote their service on them. At Blue Sky, an extremely high percentage of our business comes from client and professional connection referrals so we have decided to no longer subscribe to them.
Can Blue Sky be on your list?
As you work through your research process, we hope Blue Sky will make it onto your shortlist of potential advice firms, and then it’s up to us to earn the right to take things further.
We understand though that choosing an adviser is such a personal decision so if for any reason you choose another financial adviser to work with, we wish you all the best and hope this blog series helped you to make a great decision.
More about Blue Sky Financial Planning
Here at Blue Sky, we are an independent financial planning firm with registered IFAs and wealth managers within our employed team. Regulated by the FCA with an impeccable reputation for client services and no upheld complaints, we thrive on making our clients’ hopes and dreams come true. We take a holistic approach wherever possible and only recommend products and services that will serve the end goals of the clients. You can learn more about the Essence of Blue Sky here.