Your Financial Advisor’s Most Essential Trait

There are some great checklists for choosing a financial advisor.  The good ones include asking about education, professional credentials, how long they’ve been in the business, and what services they offer.  But some of the most important information you’ll need isn’t on a checklist.  And it’s very hard to find.  You can’t ask it in a question and count on a reliable answer.  Your gut or the financial planner’s other clients might be able to answer it.  But some of these planners might not even have clients yet.  So what is it?

Can you trust the planner?

Because if the answer to that question is “no”, don’t bother asking other questions.

I’m fortunate to have many trustworthy financial planning colleagues.  One of them told a story recently that illustrates this.  About five minutes before a client came in for an appointment, he found an error his staff had made in her account.  It was – for him – a large error of about $10,000.  So the first thing he did when she arrived was explain the mistake and write her a check that made her whole.  That check pretty much cleaned out his firm’s operating account on that day.  That was several years ago and the woman is still a client.  He didn’t try to gloss over or hide his mistake.  And she appreciated that people make mistakes, but the best people own up to them and deal with the consequences.

So trust your instincts when choosing a financial advisor.  Technical knowledge and expertise are important.  But honesty is priceless.

About the author

Linda Y. Leitz, CFP®, EA, CDFA

Linda Y. Leitz is a fee-only Certified Financial Planner™ and has been in the financial industry since 1979. She is also enrolled to practice before the Internal Revenue Service. Before becoming a financial professional, Linda held several executive positions in the banking industry. She began her career as a bank examiner. Linda has a BBA in Business Administration from Principia College and an MBA from Southern Methodist University.
As a fee-only financial planner Linda is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Tax Professionals and the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors. As a leader in the financial planning industry, Linda is the author of the book titled "The Ultimate Parenting Map to Money Smart Kids". She has been quoted in several national publications including the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News and World Report, and Morningstar Advisor and she has appeared on CSNBC. She also works as a volunteer instructor to new financial advisors with the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors.


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  • The last statement in this column is the most critical. What matters most is character, not credentials. Seek a financial advisor through a person or entity who has already earned your trust; an experienced friend or relative, or an organization that specializes in referring only well-qualified and trustworthy advisors based on the specific situation or client, with no competing interests.

    Rob Drury
    Executive Director,
    Association of Christian Financial Advisors

  • We’ve also found that you should search for an advisor who has experience working with other clients in the same financial situation as you. Our firm matches clients to advisors- -and we’ve found that most investors don’t realize there are advisors who focus on retirees, business owners, teachers, divorced women and hundreds of other niches.

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