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Financial Advisors Help Achieve Goals

through All Life Stages

By Anne Straub

Some people, financial advisers find, think they’re not old enough or rich enough to benefit from the services of a financial professional.

If they continue on that path, chances are good that they’ll get old. The rich part, though, is anybody’s guess.

“The only person I can think of who doesn’t have to make a financial plan is someone who already has a financial plan,” said Chad Colbert, senior financial adviser for Ameriprise Financial in Melbourne.

And even when a plan is in place, an outside expert might have just the insight needed to track and tweak it along the way. “There’s always something you can be doing more efficiently,” Colbert said, whether it’s maximizing a 401(k) benefit or reducing tax liability.

Having a financial professional on your team can be the key to plotting an effective strategy for meeting your goals. Selecting one involves finding someone in tune with your style and values, as well as understanding some basics of the business.

The time to start is now, planners say. “The earlier financial planning is undertaken, the more rewarding it can be,” said Alba Paterson, chapter executive for the Financial Planning Association of Central Florida. Planning involves more than retirement: There’s managing risk, debt, planning for life events, education, emergencies, taxes and more.

“The misconception that financial planning is for the affluent or elderly is an unfortunate one,” she said.

To find an adviser, start by asking friends for referrals. Then schedule meetings and consider the following:

What are the professional’s qualifications?

The industry uses a variety of titles, including wealth manager, financial adviser, financial consultant, and so on. It’s up to the client to determine whether the title has any meaning.

Some professionals might have board certification, others might have been trained by their companies, and still others might be completely self-taught.

Those claiming the certified financial planner designation have met educational and experience requirements and have passed a 10-hour national exam. They agree to follow the CFP Board’s code of ethics.

It’s acceptable to ask to see some sort of track record. Gina Gallo, a certified financial planner and co-owner of Gallo & Russell in Melbourne, shows client portfolios, with names blacked out. Potential clients can evaluate her advice and the results.

Look for someone who has a fiduciary duty to clients, advised Dan Moisand, a certified financial planner and principal with Spraker, Fitzgerald, Tamayo & Moisand in Melbourne. That means the professional has an obligation to place a client’s interest above his or her own.

How is the professional compensated?

Don’t be afraid to ask how the planner gets paid, Gallo said. At her firm, most work is done at an hourly rate. For $150 an hour, she can help a client choose between funds offered in a 401(k) plan, evaluate insurance coverage, discuss asset allocation, and so on.

Alternatively, Gallo & Russell might charge an asset fee as a percentage of assets being managed. Moisand uses that method, as well. The fee is based on a sliding scale that never exceeds 1 percent or 2 percent of assets.

If the professional accepts commissions on sales of products, make sure that all commissions will be disclosed to the client.

The conversation should be easy. “You shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time asking about conflicts of interest or how the person is paid. They should be very upfront with all those things,” said Moisand, who serves as chairman of the national Financial Planning Association.

Be aware of the adviser’s affiliation with a larger company, which might raise the question of professionals recommending products from their firm over other products that might be more appropriate. Ask whether the adviser can recommend products from other companies, as well.

Customers are protected by tracking their results. “I always have a vested interest in giving clients the best advice possible, because if I don’t, they can take their business somewhere else,” Colbert said.

Do you feel comfortable with this person?

Don’t be intimidated. Make sure you’re not just nodding your head at concepts that aren’t clear; ask questions, Gallo said.

An adviser or planner should seek to understand a client’s goals. If the professional isn’t asking questions, that can be a problem, too.

“You want to find someone who’s not one-size-fits-all,” Colbert said. Each plan has to be catered to the client’s specific situation.

He likes to start a session with a conversation about dreams and goals. If a client works so hard that he or she misses out on family events, there must be good reasons.  “Help me understand what those are so we can get you there faster, and with less sacrifice,” Colbert said.

Moisand enjoys the problem-solving aspect of helping clients reconcile what they own, owe, make and want. “There’s almost no end to the twists and turns of what people need,” he said.

After working through what clients want and why, Moisand can help them use those filters to make decisions.

He advises people to look for a professional who works with clients like themselves. Small-business owners, retirees and high-level executives all have distinctive issues to deal with. Also consider the type of relationship you want. Do you want to come up with your own ideas, then just go in for a quick check? Do you want to delegate most of the planning to the professional? Or would you like a team approach, somewhere in between? Ask whether the professional you’re interviewing enjoys working in that style.

Invest some time in searching for a financial planner that’s a good fit. “The payoff for that is going to far exceed whether you had the hot tip for the year,” Moisand said.

Profiles:

Gina Gallo

Gino Gallo found her financial planning specialty after seeing too many women visit for financial advice too late.

They were going through a divorce, were emotionally overwhelmed and sometimes had made poor decisions with money before seeking help. “They didn’t have the tools to make those decisions,” she said.

Gallo, a certified financial planner, sought designation as a certified divorce financial analyst to train her in the financial implications of divorce. Now she works with clients and their attorneys to provide litigation support, including valuations on retirement plans and tax issues in property division. She also speaks to groups of women about the financial pitfalls of divorce.

Gallo co-owns Gallo & Russell in Melbourne. She earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from University of South Florida, then a certificate in financial planning from Florida Institute of Technology.

“I think I have a way of advising that people with varying educational backgrounds can relate to,” she said.

Dan Moisand

Dan Moisand considers himself a problem-solver.

“I’m fascinated by solving the puzzles for people,” he said. “The real fun is helping people sift through the sea of information and figure out a way to cut through that deeper and deeper, until you know what you need to do at what date.”

Moisand is a certified financial planner and principal with Spraker, Fitzgerald, Tamayo & Moisand in Melbourne.

He’s devoted time in recent years to the Financial Planning Association, serving as president last year and chairman this year. He’s been named one of the top advisers in the country by several financial magazines, but he keeps a comfortable, relaxed environment at his practice. “We’re not here to try to impress people with a big office or fancy suits,” said Moisand, who graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

He focuses on making good decisions for each client.

“We don’t worry about what the talking head says on TV,” he said.

Chad Colbert

Chad Colbert worked for other firms before he found his fit at Ameriprise: The company supports the emphasis he likes to put on planning, charting a course from where the clients are to where they want to go.

After earning a degree in psychology, he started working in web development and design. Many of his clients were in the investment field, and he got interested in the industry as a career. He spent three years in the financial business in North Carolina and has worked for Ameriprise in Melbourne for another three years.

He wishes more people his age would seek financial advice. “It kills me to see the lack of discipline and savings that people in my generation have,” he said. “It’s those folks that are going to make this generation work.”

He hasn’t found his youth to be a deterrent among the retirees and soon-to-be retirees who do seek help. “I’m 30, but I look about 17,” Colbert admits. “I think most folks down here are used to going to a doctor who’s younger than their kids,” he said, noting the same principle seems to apply to financial advisers.

He’s developed a client base that’s strong in physicians, athletes and former athletes. Many of the latter have been let down by someone they trusted with their finances in the past. “I like to be the guy who helps rebuild that trust and give the advice they should have had at the get-go,” Colbert said.

Better yet, he aims to get to them earlier so they can avoid mistakes.