How to find the best financial advisor for you

Medical Economics Journal, Medical Economics May 2021, Volume 98, Issue 5

Physicians can benefit from working with a financial advisor to help with everything from getting out of debt to retirement planning and more. It’s important to know where to start and how to find a qualified advisor.

Between juggling clinical care and handling the operations and billing sides of their practice, many physicians don’t have time to think about their financial needs and goals. Physicians can benefit from working with a financial advisor to help with everything from getting out of debt to retirement planning and more. It’s important to know where to start and how to find a qualified advisor. Experts recommend what to look for in an advisor and what to expect from the process:

“Financial planning for physicians is not a one-and-done thing, not a document with a bunch of recommendations that say, ‘Here you go, implement,’” says Chris Roe, CPA, PFS, founder and CEO of Rx Wealth Advisors in Pittsburgh. “It’s really understanding a client’s life, where they want to go, and then over time making a series of small adjustments, inputs, corrections and decisions in order to get to where the physician wants to go.”

Roe, whose company works with a significant number of physicians, has found that the education and confidence that allow physicians to be good at their jobs can sometimes lead to overconfidence in financial decisions.

“Doctors don’t wing it in providing medical care and advice,” Roe says. He advises them not to do so in their finances, either.

He recommends an approach he calls “the four Ps” for selecting an advisor: people, philosophy, process and price.

People

“The physician needs to understand the background, education and experience of the advisor. [They should ask:] Do they work with clients similar to myself? Do they have the wherewithal to provide me with the advice I need based on my specific situation?” Roe says.

He recommends choosing a professional with the certified financial analyst/professional designation (CFA or CFP) or certified professional accountant (CPA) designation. “These certifications mean that they really made a commitment to the profession and they’ve done the extra work and education. They don’t sell you solutions, they solve, advise and understand,” Roe says.

Roe compares physicians to actors in that their jobs include a high amount of education and training but take many years to get to a position of financial stability and even wealth. “Physicians can go from making a little in residency to making a lot on their first position as an attending. Advisors need to understand how to counsel them to get them over that so they don’t just start spending all their money.”

It’s also important for the advisor to understand physician career phases, says Tyler Reeves, CFP, founder of Plimsoll Financial Planning in Birmingham, Alabama. “There’s a difference between a physician in year two of attending just trying to get out of student loan debt versus a 60-year-old physician who has 30 years of experience and savings built up and [is] thinking about retirement. Those needs and situations change throughout the career trajectory of a physician.”

A good advisor will spend a significant amount of time with the client, no matter what stage of their career, says Aaron Sherman, CFP, president of Odyssey Group Wealth Advisors in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “It’s important that the needs of a young physician don’t get swept aside, because that’s a precarious time in a physician’s financial life. They spend all this time, all this money for lots of schooling and are carrying a large amount of debt. To make progress, you need to make sure you have somebody who can walk you through every step,” Sherman says.

A physician should expect to have a specific point person they can call and talk with, and to not be handed around within a firm. “You want to have that foundational relationship that you can always fall back on,” Sherman says. Equally important is to understand your advisor’s succession plan for retirement and who will take over your account in their wake.

If trusted colleagues or family members don’t have referrals, Reeves recommends searching on professional organization websites such as National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, Alliance of Comprehensive Planners and Certified Financial Planner Board.

An advisor not only helps a physician grow their wealth, they help them protect it, says Aviva Pinto, CDFA, managing director of Wealthspire Advisors in New York City. “[Many] doctors accumulate a lot of assets, and you don’t want, when you pass away, the state and federal government getting a large chunk. You can set up charitable trusts and things such as that,” she says.

Pinto also believes solid financial advice should include the spouse and family. “I think having a financial advisor [who] will include the family in the discussions is a great thing, because if something happens you have people who know where things are and who to call,” she says.

Philosophy

Part of the process of finding the right advisor means exploring their and their firm’s philosophy on financial planning. Roe recommends selecting someone who has worked with physicians but also making sure that their process works for the physician individually. “If the advisors says they only meet with you once a year for an hour, that might not work for a particular physician,” Roe says.

He recommends physicians ask about the philosophy up front. “Ask them to tell you how they invest client money,” Roe says.

Process

If a physician thinks they’ve found a good fit, Roe says the advisor should walk the physician through a very specific process. “In other words, what is the introductory phase like, and what happens after onboarding, on an annual basis? What kinds of services are provided to the physician and does the advisor address one-off issues?” he says.

Roe’s firm follows a four-step process:

1 Make an initial assessment to get a baseline
of financial health.

2 Collect more information and learn about specific risks to the physician to protect against them.

3 Address long-term investment goals.

4 Look to enhancements to build more wealth and plan for retirement. Consider legacy planning, such as philanthropy and estate planning.

“Throughout the process, the advisor should be making the intangible tangible to the physician, so the doctor gets a real clear vision of what they can expect, and more importantly, what they can’t expect,” Roe says.

If an advisor isn’t asking about the physician’s goals, it’s a good idea to find another advisor, Sherman says. “The entire financial process has to start with the client’s goals. [The advisor has] to understand what the physician is trying to accomplish and what their priorities are before [they] can consider looking at the investment side of things,” he says.

The time to start the process with an advisor is not toward the end of one’s career, Sherman says, but before significant assets have accumulated. “If you do it correctly, then those assets will accumulate more and you’ll be in a position when getting ready to retire that you’re not going to have to put much thought into it because you’ve been preparing all your life for it,” he says.

Price/fees

The best relationship and the smoothest process are not going to be useful, however, if the cost is too, high.

“A good thing to ask is, ‘How do you get paid?’ And then, ‘How much would I pay, to the dollar amount, and how much would you expect my fee to change over time?’ ” Reeves says.

There are several ways that financial advisors get paid, according to Pinto.

Commission-based

Financial planners charge clients a fee whenever they buy or sell stocks (or other investments). Pinto warns, “They may be motivated by the purchase or sale of assets that may not be congruent with your goals. However, if you are looking for advice on a single transaction, this might be a good option.” For example, if you are interested in buying and holding a single mutual fund for the long term and don’t need ongoing advice, a commission-based advisor may be the cheapest option.

Flat-fee

Financial planners charge their clients for services on a per-use basis. They may charge a one-time fee to create a financial plan but also try to sell products for a commission or try to recruit you as a fee-based client. “If you are simply looking for a one-time plan to answer some of your questions about your financial future and do not require ongoing advice, a flat-fee advisor may be a good option,” Pinto says.

Fee only

These advisors charge clients through hourly rates or based on a percentage of the assets they manage. Although these advisors offer financial planning services, they are typically looking for long-term partnerships with their clients. “The advantage of fee-only financial advisors is that they do their best to coordinate your assets to create a comprehensive plan for you, which is reviewed regularly and revised as changes in your life come up,” Pinto says.

“You want to have a clear sense of what the advisor’s duty is to the client,” Sherman says. “We operate as fiduciaries for our clients. We are legally obligated to put our clients’ best interests first. There are other ways of operating where there’s a lower standard of care where somebody could recommend one investment over another if they get paid more for what they’re recommending.”

Roe says that advisors selling financial products are not inherently bad or good, but “physicians have to ask themselves: ‘Are they selling me this product because it’s in my best interests or theirs?’” He says to be wary of “shiny objects,” such as when an advisor promises an easy or fast way to create wealth or save money.

“There’s never a one-size-fits-all answer for price. It really comes down to the physician, the philosophy, the firm and what they’re providing to the physician,” Roe says.

The experts agree that physicians need to do their research, ask strategic questions, and look for advisors who put the needs and goals of the client ahead of any fees or commissions.