What Should You Bring to Your First Meeting with a Financial Planner?

Back in the 1980s, I was part of a management team at a national financial planning firm. As was in corporate “fashion” at the time, we took part in one of those “personality assessment” programs. Long story short, it broke personalities into four general types to understand the different lenses through which people view the world.

While using just four personality types is indeed painting with broad strokes for all different kinds of people, it was beneficial for me to get some additional insight into my personality. 

My results showed high to very-high scores in the analytical-type personality, which helped explain why I typically get along well with other analytically wired minds. You know, the types that drive most people crazy with all the details?

It also helped reaffirm the decision I had made back in 1984 to become a financial planner, a profession that seems to line up well for a person with analytical tendencies. So, selfishly, I’ve always felt this profession is a perfect career match for yours truly.

That led me to ponder the process people go through when selecting a financial planner for their lives. There’s absolutely a licensing, credentialing, and experience component to the selection, but it also had me thinking about the personality component as well. People need to find an advisor with a personality that they’re comfortable with; there needs to be a certain level of chemistry between advisor and client for the relationship to be successful. One of the significant components of creating an impactful financial plan is a client’s ability to open up and speak candidly about their finances, fears, dreams, and choices, and that’s easier to do with someone you get along with on a personal level.

That said, personality can only take an advisor so far—they also need to have a solid, repeatable process to create success across varying situations. The first step in a reliable process is the initial meeting between advisor and client.

Let’s dive in at this important first step, the introductory meeting, and discuss what an advisor should be asking their prospective clients to bring to their first meeting, what they should discuss, and why. 

  • Your most pressing issue. Often, people reach out to a financial planner because of a recent or impending life change, a pressing matter that needs to be handled, or a persistent long-term, unresolved concern. Your advisor should get to the heart of why you’ve reached out looking for financial advice. This will inform your financial advisor on where to begin your work together.
  • Household Balance Sheet. A balance sheet will list all of your assets and liabilities with current values, giving your financial advisor a clear picture of your current situation. Simply, this is a list of everything you own and everything you owe.
  • Household Budget. Your budget or cash flow statement will give your financial advisor insight into where you allocate your current spending. This will also help them project various future scenarios, like your monthly expenses during retirement or if you were disabled or incapacitated.
  • Investment statements. Investment statements include cash accounts, non-retirement accounts, retirement accounts, college savings plans, all complete with investment details, if possible. This can help your advisor understand the composition and costs of your current portfolio and allow them to make specific recommendations as needed.
  • Most recent pay-stub. Pay-stubs provide a wealth of information that can provide your advisor an understanding of your income, pay periods, employee benefits deductions, and tax withholdings. 
  • Insurance statements. Disability policies, life, home/auto, umbrella. These documents will help your financial advisor understand your current level of risk mitigation and make recommendations to adjust as needed. 
  • Most recent tax return. Your most recent tax return tells the story of your financial situation in the past year. This can provide an advisor a wealth of insights into specific planning opportunities and tax savings strategies available to you.
  • Mortgage Statements. A mortgage statement with your current payment, balance, and interest rate is an essential document to identify mortgage planning opportunities.
  • Outline of Your Employee Benefits. Your benefits package contains a list of all the current benefits that you are taking advantage of and additional opportunities that may be available through your workplace. It’s an essential document for your financial advisor to review.

The list above is not comprehensive, but it is a great starting point that your advisor should be asking for in the first—or certainly by the second—meeting. Most importantly, the first meeting should be an opportunity for the advisor and client to conduct a two-way, collaborative interview.

An advisor should be asking questions to get to the heart of your unique situation while not leaving any stone unturned. The last thing you would want is working with a financial advisor, believing that you have all your bases covered, and then, out of the blue, an issue arises that you never previously contemplated or planned for.

Unfortunately, too many financial advisors take a cursory approach to planning and don’t take the time, don’t follow an in-depth process, or don’t have an analytical personality.

There are several signs to determine if you’re working with the right advisor. The first meeting should give a good indication as to how detail-oriented the advisor, and their process, really are.  It’s critical for the client and advisor to connect and for the financial advisor to deliver immediate value from the beginning.

If your financial advisor has not addressed the topics and documents listed above, please reach out, and let’s take a look at your unique situation. 

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