The internet has changed the way we conduct research. In the past, we might have gone to the library or checked out an encyclopedia to find a specific piece of information or to learn more about a topic. If we wanted to order a pizza or find someone to do a particular service, we’d turn to the Yellow Pages. But now that we have the internet, it is easier than ever to access the information we seek.
The problem is it’s also overwhelming.
When we go online to find an answer to a question we have, there is a seemingly infinite amount of information at our fingertips — sometimes it’s difficult to even know where to begin! But we’re here to help. That’s why we created this step-by-step guide to help you find the right financial professional for your needs.
When you’re on a quest for information or to learn something new, search engines like Google and Bing are your friend. Use queries like “financial advisor near me” or “retirement planning” in combination with the name of your city. In a fraction of a second, the search engine will turn out thousands — if not millions! — of results.
Once your results appear, you’ll see a lot of information. You might see a map showing you the locations of nearby financial advisors and planners, you might see related questions, and you will likely see advertisements. (We might consider inserting a screenshot of a SERP here – maybe not a search for financial advisors, but something random like “pizza in Atlanta” just to show the different types of results)
When evaluating your results, look at the headlines (the dark blue, slightly larger text) and the descriptions (the smaller, darker text below). Are they descriptive? They should be — if you don’t know exactly where a link is going to take you, don’t click it!
At this early point in your research, it’s OK to pick a few options to look into further for more information. We recommend picking 3-5 websites/professionals to start with.
Pro tip: It’s important to note that the results at the very top of the page are not necessarily the best or most relevant. Sometimes advertisements appear in the first few result slots, so pay close attention when clicking on links.
Once you’ve arrived on their homepage, give yourself a moment to take it in. Is it easy to navigate? Is it informative? Does this professional have a key focus? Check the navigation (usually found at the top of a website) for an “About” page. They’ll likely have a bio to help you learn more about them. Do their values align with yours?
Next, take a look at their “Services” page if they have one. This page (or pages) should give you more information about what exactly they do at their practice and should help you determine if they’re a good fit for you. Not all financial professionals are the same, so make sure that they actually offer services that align with your needs.
In addition to their website, consider looking for these professionals on social media, especially Facebook and LinkedIn, as well. If they have active profiles, what kind of content do they post? Do they interact with their followers?
Pro tip: The financial services industry is a strictly regulated industry, so reviews may not always be available or allowed. Do not base your decision solely on reviews and ratings (or lack thereof) on Facebook, Google, or Yelp.
Financial planning can get complicated. Many individuals do not have the time or knowledge to make complex decisions on their own, which is why some people turn to professionals for guidance.
When looking for a retirement planner or other financial professional, try to determine if they are more sales-focused or if they will actually take the time to help you understand your plan and the strategies they are recommending. A good financial professional will sit down with you and make sure you understand all the benefits and risks of a particular product or plan before putting it into effect. Be wary of professionals who will just focus on trying to sell you a product so they can make a commission on it — be sure you fully understand the associated risks, benefits, and fees before making a financial decision.
Pro tip: It’s possible — and perfectly OK — for a financial professional to be both an educator and a salesperson. The important thing to keep in mind is that you get the information and support you need to make smarter financial decisions.
At this point, hopefully you have learned enough about these potential advisors to narrow it down a little. If you still need help making a decision, request more information. Their website should have forms you can fill out to receive information like brochures, informative handouts, and more. You may have to provide your contact details (like your name, email address, and phone number) in order to receive this information.
When you fill out a form on a website, pay attention to how that information is delivered. If it’s emailed to you, is the email polite and friendly? Do they offer to answer your questions? Does someone reach out to you directly and invite you to come in to talk further? These are all important indicators of whether a particular professional is more focused on education or sales.
Even if you’re still deciding between two or three potential advisors, now is a good time to call and request an initial appointment or consultation. Meeting in person can help you determine more soundly if you’ll be a good fit for working together. You can learn a lot about a person and their business online, but nothing can replace good old-fashioned face-to-face interaction.
We hope this list was helpful for you. For more retirement and financial education resources, check out the rest of our website and sign up for alerts about educational courses in your area.