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Finding Your Financial Advisors

Throughout my thirty-year professional career in financial services, I’ve earned a closetful of degrees and continuing education credits. The more notable include – JD, CPA, CLU, ChFC and CFP. They each reflect a specific area of expertise in the law, taxes, estate planning, insurance and financial planning.

To my many business partners and clients, I was considered a reliable source of state-of-the-art knowledge on these critical life issues. My degrees afforded me a level of credibility and opened more than a few doors.

Results over Accreditations

Upon reflection, I think the degrees were just the beginning of my value proposition. My career success had more to do with the day-to-day actions I took – my ability to perform and produce results.

Once the door had been opened by a business partner and I was face-to-face with a mutual client, and in the aftermath, my job was to perform – to solve problems and substantially improve the lives of my clients – and thereby my business partners as well.

Since my earliest days in Long Island, N.Y., I’m told I was stubborn and displayed an unusual level of tenacity. At times, my parents called it something less appealing. But when I fixed my mind to something, I wouldn’t let it go. If I wanted something badly enough, there was no other consideration except to somehow go out and get it.

There was the time when I needed to see my beloved Mets take batting practice, even though the ballfield was a borough away. There was no other avenue, so I jumped on a bicycle and powered myself block-after-block-after-block until finally I got to that batting practice.

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As for test-taking, meaning being assessed by my superiors, I was forever anxious, but always prepared. Whether my motivation was fear of failure, rejection or embarrassing myself, rather than something more heroic, when that gate burst open, I was ready to go.

I ran the race with relentless abandon and in thoroughbred horse racing parlance, when the pressure was on, rarely, if ever, did I ‘spit the bit.’

But enough about me – even I’m getting bored.

The Critical Considerations

By briefing you on my background, I’m hoping you’ll take my following advice seriously – because it’s a serious subject.

The topic before us is how to properly seek your own advice and guidance, your own personal advisors – across each of these critical financial categories.

For starters, the number of degrees following an advisor’s name should not be a primary consideration. While such training matters, and you should always seek verification, advisory success isn’t really about that. As stated, it’s more about substance – the performance of the individuals – than it is about the superficiality of framed degrees on an office wall.

There are three components to exceptional performance, the character traits needed to become successful in any endeavor, especially financial advisory. Besides expertise in any subject, there must also be elements of dependability and trustworthiness to the person.

This is the (not so) magic formula when looking for your own advisors: expertise, dependability and trustworthiness.

You must seek out these rare few in financial advisory who are getting the job done every day– those who are substantially improving the lives of their clients.

Character Matters

Finding this combination of characteristics in advisors- expertise, dependability and trustworthiness- may sound simple. But trust me, it’s not.

By the way, I was being glib. Don’t ever ‘trust me,’ or the words of any person you don’t know well. Trust is earned over time – certainly not based on words, but instead on proven dependability and performance.

In my 30 years traveling across the country interacting with retail financial advisors, I’ve found only a handful in any local marketplace deserving of such trust.

How do you find these few gems?

Building Your Team

In building your team of advisors, you should not make these decisions in a bubble, meaning, by yourself. One or two big mistakes in judgment could not only cost your financial comfort for the entirety of the next two or three decades, but the resulting stress could be deleterious to your physical and emotional health.

Just like in professional sports, success is never accomplished alone. It’s a team effort. Good leadership, player selection, coaching and then good performance when the game is on.

The four cornerstone players on your financial team, those responsible for securing your financial objectives during and after your lifetime, are as follows: an attorney, an accountant, a financial advisor, and an insurance professional. It’s critical that you find them and then utilize them as a cohesive team.

During my career, I was called into hundreds of cases and met thousands of advisors. Most, after completing a case, I never saw again. Frankly, most advisors were just average. Good people making an honest living, but average – they were the .250 hitters. I was looking for the All-Stars, the MVP and Triple Crown contenders. Finding these gems takes some time and digging, but it’s worth the effort by many-fold.

Finding the All Stars

Because of my unique position and insight, I was able to find the All Stars – the handful of advisors in each local marketplace who were experts in their craft, dependable in their words and actions, and trustworthy in the results they produced.

The best advisors are usually supported by an equally impressive team of associates, and you could see the quality in everything they do, large and small. The class and cleanliness of their office environment, the way they answer the phone, the way the staff members are treated (with respect and dignity), the coffee cups they use to serve their clients, the better stock of paper they use to create reports. Everything. It all matters to these All Stars, because it all reflects who they are.

These were the professionals I developed long-term, trusted relationships with – the best-of-the-best – and in doing so, I met the best clients as well. One follows the other. Because I only aligned myself with the best – advisors and their clients – my consultative business prospered.

In effect, I was the CEO of my business and was able to build my own “board of directors.” These were people that I could rely on to help me make the correct decisions, people who would never hold anything back, and would lay it on the line when it came to their opinions. There was always just one focus – the best outcome for the client.

The Process

To put together your All-Star team, here is the proven process:

  • Who are the most successful, most impressive people you know – the people who seem to have their lives all buttoned up? This is where the process begins. These are the people to ask for referrals to their financial professionals. Believe me, they will be flattered that you asked.
  • The next step is to schedule an interview with the one professional that they rave about the most. That one irreplaceable person or team of people in their financial lives. In the lives of the financially successful – there’s almost always one.
  • Whichever professional you begin with, be it the financial advisor, accountant, lawyer or insurance person, ask them for referrals to the best advisors they know in the other professions. As I once was, they are uniquely qualified to know the best in the business. By doing this, you are putting together a roster of possible further interviews.
  • If for any reason, the interaction with any one of the professions doesn’t feel right – that advisor is not for you. Trust your eyes and ears, and your gut, and don’t be in a rush – ever! Concentrate on finding the right fit when it comes to your own advisors. They will check all the boxes I’ve previously mentioned. They will be exuding confidence and professionalism from A to Z.

Consistent Advice

When you have your team in place, they will cover everything – from the very basics up to the sophisticated – depending on your needs. Here’s just a brief list of some of the advice you’re likely to hear:

  • You will be told not to think about the financial concerns of others, such as extended family and friends, and even your own children, without first making certain you are prepared yourself. It’s the old example: In an airplane crisis, we’re taught to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first – so we are prepared to help others.
  • They will focus on all the components of your balance sheet – liquid assets, liabilities, cash management, annuities, life insurance, etc. For instance, they will never allow you to run up a credit card balance. If you must borrow at all, it will be only the most effective (i.e. lowest cost) means.
  • You will never invest in something you do not understand. You will be educated and have all your questions answered before moving on to the next steps of implementing a portfolio strategy.
  • You will never have too much money in one investment, which is referred to as an ‘over-concentration’ in one particular asset class, stock sector, and especially, one stock, no matter how optimistic the future looks.
  • You will never be able to spend more in a year than your portfolio and the plan will bear, without having a thorough face-to-face discussion regarding the long-term negative implications of your actions.
  • That said, you will never be limited as to accessing your own money. Liquidity, cash flow needs and preparing for emergencies, such as an unplanned healthcare cost, will be paramount to the plan.
  • You will never purchase the wrong kind of life insurance. Insurance planning is complicated and could be very productive, or very expensive, depending on the appropriateness of the strategy you employ.
  • Beyond life insurance, you will have a complete estate plan and every component will be reviewed annually for important changes in your life, in tax laws, etc., that could lead to adjustments to your plan.

And these are just a few of the common mistakes you will avoid, the same mistakes that I’ve seen made by smart people all the time. I’m made a few of them myself. Do not under-estimate the importance of recognizing that there is no person who is expert at everything (although my Aunt Fay always claimed to be).

Following my herein guidance – putting together your own board of directors, your All-Star financial team – gives you the best chance to provide your loved ones with the gift of financial security, and your favorite humanitarian causes with the gifts they so desperately need as well.

When you are in this place, you’ve gone a long way to securing a good and satisfying life. In fact, it doesn’t get any better.