Asking for a Friend: What Is a Financial Adviser Exactly?

Updated 05/05/19

When it comes to your finances, do you take a head-on or head-in-the-sand approach? If you identify with the latter, the good news is you’re not alone. The bad news? You’re not alone. New data suggests that when it comes to managing money, women are not as independent as you’d expect. In fact, 91% of women in heterosexual couples are not participating in financial decisions. But we want to change that statistic. To help you become a master of your own finances, we’re debuting a new series called The Paper Files, where we uncover tricks and tips that will help you manage your money and your future. Ready to take it head-on?

what is a financial adviser
Getty Images

Between deciphering financial jargon, opening up a 401k, and navigating the stock market, managing your own finances can take a lot of time, effort, and stamina if you’re not an economics buff. Because the do-it-yourself approach to money management isn’t for everyone, we asked Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick, a financial advisor at O’Keeffe Financial Partners, to tell us what she does for her clients so we can finally answer the question what is a financial adviser? with confidence.

After all, when you’re divulging such important information to someone, you want to know what you’re getting into before making a commitment. If you’re curious about working with a financial planner but you’re not sure where to start, you’re going to want to keep scrolling. We asked Merrick all about what she does as a financial adviser so you don’t have to wonder any longer.

Here’s everything you need to know about financial advisers, including how they go about managing money, how to find the right one for you, and how to know if you should speak with one.

On Money Management

MYDOMAINE: What is a financial adviser?

KRISTIN O’KEEFFE MERRICK: I would say that I like to be the financial quarterback to people—to basically provide them with any advice they need that relates to finances in any aspect. It seems really broad because it is kind of broad. I think finance, personal finance, and the world of money is everywhere in our lives, and when we’re trying to make important life decisions, it’s good to have someone who is a professional be a sounding board for you and give you the right advice.

MD: What are some of the most common areas of personal finance that you advise your clients on?

KM: Unpacking what I do into three buckets, I would say bucket one is investment management. When most people think of a financial adviser, they only think of the investment management side, which runs the gamut from everything from retirement planning so your IRAs or 401ks to just your good old-fashioned market investing.

On Finding the Right Adviser

MD: How do you know a financial advisor is right for you? How should you go about choosing the right one?

KM: The most important questions you need to ask are, “Do you like the person, and do you trust the person?” You should not be working with an adviser if the answer is no to one or both those questions. You absolutely need to like and trust them. This is a person who hopefully, is with you for a very long time in your life. Besides, you’re divulging a lot of information to them, and you want to make sure that your money is in the right hands. You want to make sure that you’re going to want to continue to grow the relationship, so the likability factor is a big one, and like I said, the trust thing is huge.

So that’s number one.

MD: How do you know a financial advisor is right for you? How should you go about choosing the right one?

KM: The most important questions you need to ask are, “Do you like the person, and do you trust the person?” You should not be working with an adviser if the answer is no to one or both those questions. You absolutely need to like and trust them. This is a person who hopefully, is with you for a very long time in your life. Besides, you’re divulging a lot of information to them, and you want to make sure that your money is in the right hands. You want to make sure that you’re going to want to continue to grow the relationship, so the likability factor is a big one, and like I said, the trust thing is huge.

So that’s number one.

Number two is, “is it a good fit? Is it a good fit for you, and is it a good fit for the adviser?” Not every client fits every adviser’s business model, and not every adviser’s business model fits every client. So I think understanding how the adviser does business and how they approach each client and what the process is for each client is a really important factor.

Understanding how the fees work is really important, making sure that you have a very strong understanding of what you’re paying for and what you’re getting. And also understanding that if you have assets you want the adviser to manage for you, what the fees look like for that as well. What I would say to fees, because it’s a really touchy subject in our world, is that if there are no fees, then that’s suspect. I would say that you get what you pay for.

On Mistakes to Avoid

MD: Are there any big mistakes you should avoid when meeting with a financial adviser?

KM: One of the things that I run into quite often that frustrates me as an adviser is that I will have one or two meetings with a client, and they’re super excited, and they’re super pumped about the process, and they’re excited to get financially organized, and financially empowered, and all the wonderful things that go along with taking control of your finances, and then there’s a fall off.

MD: Are there any big mistakes you should avoid when meeting with a financial adviser?


KM:
 One of the things that I run into quite often that frustrates me as an adviser is that I will have one or two meetings with a client, and they’re super excited, and they’re super pumped about the process, and they’re excited to get financially organized, and financially empowered, and all the wonderful things that go along with taking control of your finances, and then there’s a fall off.

On When to Meet With an Adviser

MD: Aside from retirement, what would you say are some big life moments where you would advise people to seek out a financial adviser?


KM:
 I would say that most people are not compelled to find an adviser until one of these life moments happens. It’s like that old saying that crisis causes action, right? Crisis is the direct cause of action.

MD: Aside from retirement, what would you say are some big life moments where you would advise people to seek out a financial adviser?


KM:
 I would say that most people are not compelled to find an adviser until one of these life moments happens. It’s like that old saying that crisis causes action, right? Crisis is the direct cause of action.

In my opinion, you should be talking to an adviser with your future spouse before you get married because talking about money as you’re heading on your way into marriage is crucial. Having a baby is also an important one—making sure you’re financially organized and you’re prepared to pay for all the additional costs of having a baby. And then divorce is a big one—you’ll see that a lot of people kind of have to figure out their new financial situation when they get divorced. And death, any kind of death.

If there’s some kind of inheritance involved or there’s some kind of estate that needs to be dissolved, that’s a huge life event that I talk to clients about.

Up next: Is the "average retirement savings by age" approach outdated for millennials?

Related Stories