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Working With a Financial Adviser: Building Your Relationship

This article was written by in Financial Advice and Advisers. 17 comments.

This is a guest article from Kathryn. Kathryn has been working in the financial industry for 11 years. She is the founder and author of Kathryn’s Conversations, a money and lifestyle blog for people who like to get stuff done. This article continues the series covering working with financial planners and advisers.

First dates are exhilarating. You’ve met someone you like, you hope they like you, you get home and start wondering when the next time you’ll see them is; you might even search the Internet for information about them.

After a few more dates, you decide to commit, and the brainwashing is in full force. Life is so much better since I’ve met this person; he’s my savior. Your own ideas and opinions slowly fall by the wayside while their ideas and opinions become the way forward. You don’t second-guess them on anything because you’re wrapped up in love; they must be right about everything.

When you meet and then select a financial planner, you’ll have these same feelings. Financial planners have a way of making you feel like the rest of your life is now somehow safe, and you never have to go on a bad date again, ever. But just because you have a financial planner, it doesn’t mean you can put your financial plan on auto-pilot.

Sure, he’s the expert, but remember that you’re his client and you’re paying him to help you. You’re not paying him to intimidate you or give you cookie-cutter information that you could find online without his help.

Don’t check out mentally when you find a planner. Keep your head in the game. It’s your job to set the tone of the relationship from the beginning.

Here are a few things to be aware of that will help your navigate you relationship with your planner.

  1. Your planner will position himself as the authority figure: you the student and he the teacher. One common way he accomplishes this authority is by wearing a suit. A study shows that when a jaywalker is wearing a suit, three and a half times as many people will follow him across the street than when he is in street clothes.

    What does this mean for you when you’re sitting across the table from your planner who is wearing a suit? You’re more likely to listen and take their direction because their suit alone will make you feel like they’re the authority; you’re less likely to challenge their suggestions.

    Solution: Separate the planner’s suggestions from his suit. If he weren’t wearing the suit, would you still implement the suggestions he has?

  2. Your planner will talk fast when explaining something complicated. People talk fast, whether intentionally or unintentionally, because you’re more likely to believe someone when you don’t understand the topic. In short, The argument is more believable when the expert talks fast because you don’t have time to process (and rebut) his idea or piece of information. You comply with his suggestion, and you move on to the next topic.

    Solution: Tell your planner to slow down. Good planners can break down the most complicated topics into something simple. If they can’t speak slowly to help you understand a topic, there’s a good chance your planner is a bad communicator, so don’t get frustrated with yourself. Remember his job is to communicate with you, not intimidate you!

  3. Your planner will have balanced opinions and suggestions. He will suggest one thing and provide the counter argument to their suggestion to be fair and balanced. This would boosts his credibility because he would be hiding nothing. Balanced opinions will still most likely lead you to the option they’re suggesting, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because they’ve earned your trust by not being one-sided.

    Solution: When they provide balanced opinions, keep in mind you have the responsibility to select the option that works best for you, not the option that you were persuaded into doing as a result of this tactic.

  4. You’ll like your planner. After all, you went through a selection process and chose him. Like any relationship, you’ll like them even more if they’re good looking, if they compliment you, and if you have things in common with them. Your planner will most likely give you a few compliments and find ways to connect with you, so don’t be surprised if there is ample small talk during your first official meeting. They’re working to strengthen their bond with you, and that’s good. Just know that you may be more reluctant to challenge your planner when you feel a connection to him.

    Solution: Enjoy the connection you have with your planner, but keep in mind that your feelings for him shouldn’t influence whether you implement any particular suggestion. Just because you like them doesn’t mean all their ideas are suitable for you.

Keep these suggestions in mind as you’re developing your relationship with your planner. Doing so will help make sure you continue to think for yourself and share ideas that you have. When I lived in New York the rule of thumb was: “You can always find a better boyfriend, a better job, and a better apartment.” Let’s add on: “You can always find a better planner.” There are lots of fish in the sea.

Published or updated April 24, 2011.

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About the author

Kathryn has been working in the financial industry for 11 years. She is the founder and author of Kathryn's Conversations, a money and lifestyle blog for people who like to get stuff done. View all articles by .

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Ceecee

What an interesting article with ideas I never considered…..inside information, so to speak. If I meet with a planner(or any sakesperson) I will remember these points.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

If you are paying for a service, you should be comfortable with the person and their information. Asking questions is one way to feel comfortable. If the expert cannot answer your questions satisfactorily, then you have the wrong person.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Kathryn while there are some good comments, c’mon as far as #1 and #2. First of all as a fee-only planner who is not selling financial products I (and my fee-only peers in organaizations like NAPFA have no incentive to convince clients to do anything other than what we believe to be in their best interests. By the way I almost never wear a suit and make it a point to help clients understand the complex ideas we sometimes deal with.

As for #3 I think its a good, responsible practice to let clients know about the pros and cons of any suggestion and why I think the pros outweigh the cons.

As for #4, while I like my clients and think they like me, one of the first things that I tell a client is that they should challenge my ideas. To me this builds rapport and trust and sometimes unearths things that I was not aware of about a client that might change my suggestion.

Overall your article paints the client-planner realtionship as one that is filled with gamesmanship and almost adversarial. If this is how your relationship is with your advisor you should find a new one. Also perhaps you should investigate the world of fee-only (not fee-based) advice a bit further. Frankly as an advisor who has done a lot of good for his clients I find this post both laughable and somewhat insulting. On the other hand, I enjoy being exposed to other points of view, so thank you.

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avatar 4 Kathryn

Roger, this shouldn’t insult you, sounds like your clients don’t need to look out for this stuff so it should further solidify that you’re doing a great job for them!

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avatar 5 wylerassociate

the jaywalker analogy is interesting although just because someone wears a suit doesn’t mean anything to me. After all, the people who helped bring down the economy wore suits. I definitely agree with points 3 & 4, just because you like a person it still means you have to be objective when you listen to their arguments.

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avatar 6 skylog

i am with you on that small point. i suppose i can see where a suit can give a certain positive bias towards someone, but not me.

kathryn, is there any chance you could point me to the study you refer to? i would be interested in taking a look.

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avatar 7 Kathryn

sure, I have a link here that basically just summarizes what I mentioned. There’s an actual study that was done but when I google searched the study, I could only find it in a journal which you’d need to buy. But here’s the link that summarizes what I said, it’s mentioned on page 7

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avatar 8 skylog
avatar 9 Anonymous


Thanks for providing the study you referenced. If raises several important points regarding influence and how it is used.

Your main point in the article is important. When working with a professional, it is critical for investors to remember they are the boss. It s no different than your relationship to a doctor or a building contractor. They may have the expertise, but they are working for you.

Granted, Roger’s points regarding the differences between what you should expect from a fee only planner versus a commission broker are valid. But whichever configuration you choose, you are the boss and should not automatically follow any given recommendation if you are not comfortable with it

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avatar 10 Kathryn

Paul, Interesting point on “your relationship with your doctor.” There are also several studies that show when someone is dressed in a lab/doctors coat, people are more likely to follow what they say, and think less for themselves.

avatar 11 Anonymous


Good point, but I think those studies are outdated or at least trending in the opposite direction. Fifty years ago you go in with a sore throat and the Doctor says drop your drawers. In 1950, most people did. Today, I think most would say, “Hey Doc, you’re gonna have to explain why!” or “My throats up here!”.

I agree with you that if most people perceive the Doctor as their boss, then it was a poor example. My main point was that in all our relationships with those who we hire, it is critical to remember that you, as the client, patient, or customer, are the boss. You have the ability to choose another provider, decline a recommendation, or refuse treatment. You hire them for their knowledge and skills, not to order you around. That’s important in finance, medicine, and everything else when we pay the bill.

Would you agree?

avatar 12 Anonymous

I think if people took the time to take one investment class, they wouldn’t need a financial adviser at all. I’m sorry to say it, especially for you Kathryn, but with the internet, all of the information is right at our fingertips, and we may even be able to find it faster than our advisers!

Mutual Funds, Real Estate, High-Yield Savings…. it all sounds overwhelming, but it’s really not. Go find a book at the library and read up on the investment of interest. You’ll learn everything you need to know in no-time.

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avatar 13 lynn

I totally agree with this approach. That’s where I received my education The most important thing I learned was not to get enticed by creative finance.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

Good suggestions – you might also want to find out what the planner is investing in themselves. When i speak with my planner we find a good mix of investments and I ask him which ones he’s got his money in most of the time he’s able to point them out quickly and say why he invested in them. For me this ensures that they aren’t just pushing the latest fund at me.

While the last commenter made a comment that you can do all of this yourself a good planner will remove the need for you to do all of the heavy lifting yourself and suggest options that you might not have considered. At the end of the day a simple approach with some index funds and high yield interest are likely to provide you with a healthy return. What you really need a savvy planner for is when you go beyond these investment vehicles.

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avatar 15 lynn

Matt, Are you sure this is a fool proof approach? I do know if he hesitates, run.

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avatar 16 Kathryn

Paul, ah ha ha you’re funny, seriously though I did read some wacky studies relating to doctors, they may have been old like you say. Anyway, could not agree more, that was the main point of the post – to encourage people to feel confident about their relationship with their planner, but just because they’re the expert, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question them. And I really do think there are a lot of good planners out there, so if the one they’re with isn’t working for them, move on!

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avatar 17 Anonymous

FYI for your readers, NAPFA just put out this guide to selecting an advisor. Some good tips.

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