Experience, Education, Reputation Are Key

There are plenty of TV ads — whether it’s a former “Law & Order” prosecutor or a talking baby — telling you that investing is simple and can be done with the charts and information their firm provides.

But can you really? In a world where your investments are rocked not only by Washington and Wall Street but by the utterances of a Greek politician, an E.U. bureaucrat or something as incomprehensibly named as a “credit-default swap,” should you really be going it alone?

No, says estate planning attorney Jennifer Leonard with Buechner Haffer Meyers & Koenig Co., L.P.A.

“Given the large swings in the market recently, individuals are fearing the worst, and a financial planner can calm those fears,” she says. A financial planner will make sure that a client is invested in the appropriate assets given the client’s age and goals. An individual is best suited when they have a team of experts to rely upon, such as an accountant to develop the best tax strategies and a financial planner to implement them.”

Scott Malof, CPA, PFS of Malof & Associates CPAs LLC in Florence, says investors could go it alone.

“The question is should you?” he asks. “If you listen to any of the media on TV, radio or print, you can do anything yourself; or so they would have you believe. In today’s complex financial marketplace what you don’t know can hurt you. So, you may want to consider getting some assistance, particularly if your IRA/401(k) balances are approaching $250,000 or more.”

For Malof, choosing an adviser should depend on their experience, reputation and education.

“A person should have worked in the industry at least five years, but the more the better. Experience includes working directly with their clients with their personal finances. The person should be someone you know and trust or who was referred to you by someone you know and trust. Consider getting two, if not three, names of individuals or firms to meet with for an initial consultation. Finally, someone who holds designations such as the CFA, CFP, PFS or CPA.” These are chartered financial analysts, certified financial planners, personal financial specialists and certified public accountants.

Leonard agrees with Malof but also adds other factors.

“First and foremost, an individual has to be comfortable with and trust the financial planner,” she says. “If you’re not comfortable with them, you may not trust them completely no matter the designations and experience. They should be able to share with you good and bad experiences. Everyone has made mistakes, and if they can’t tell you theirs, I’d be suspicious.

She also thinks a planner should think outside the box. “A typical investment, such as blue chip stocks, may not be appropriate for everyone, since we all have different goals and different amounts of assets to invest.”

Leonard says she believes a team of advisers is needed. “It is difficult to navigate the current market and economy without a financial planner,” she says. “An individual is best suited when they have a team of experts to rely upon, such as an accountant to develop the best tax strategies and a financial planner to implement them.”