What to Look for in a Professional Financial Advisor


While it often seems like you can’t have it all, there’s one aspect of life where compromise should be non-negotiable—your financial well-being. We live in a constantly changing financial world that’s impacted by everything from geopolitical conflicts to the rise of AI, which makes investing your own money a bit more of a challenge. New research indicates that many affluent investors are recognizing this need and are seeking nothing short of top-tier financial guidance. 

A recent study by Cerulli Associates sheds light on a compelling shift in investor behavior. Affluent investors are increasingly relying on their financial advisors to help them chart their financial destinies. Over the past year, a growing number of investors has fallen into the category dubbed “advisor-reliant.” This group, which now constitutes 41% of affluent investors, has experienced significant growth, up from 36%. 

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As we step into 2024, Cerulli anticipates that the demand for holistic financial advice will continue to surge as investors strive to optimize their financial pursuits. This trend is part of a broader movement in the financial world. Since 2009, Cerulli found the percentage of “advised” investors has swelled from 35% to an impressive 47%, while those who consider themselves “self-directed” have dwindled from 41% to a mere 24%. The numbers speak volumes, underlining a significant shift towards relying on professional financial guidance.

Amidst the ongoing economic uncertainty and market volatility, it’s no wonder that more individuals are turning to financial planners and wealth managers. But not just any advisor will suffice; it’s those who provide holistic advice that are gaining the spotlight.

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This underscores the paramount importance of understanding what a financial advisor can do for you. Equipping yourself with knowledge about their roles, responsibilities, and the invaluable assistance they can provide in 2024 is a pivotal step in taking control of your financial journey.

Why Investors Are Seeking Holistic Financial Advice

It’s not that more money inherently brings more problems, but rather that as your wealth grows, so can the complexities. That explains why investors who are most likely to hire an advisor are consumers with incomes of $100,000 or more, according to the National Association of Plan Advisors

But what exactly are these discerning investors seeking from their advisors? 

The answer, according to Cerulli’s research, lies in customization and personalization. Affluent investors emphasize their desire for access to tailored investment solutions, with a resounding 67% citing this as a pivotal reason for turning to a financial advisor. Over the last 14 years, there has also been a remarkable uptick in interest in formal financial plans, surging from 38% to a significant 54%, among all investors.

In essence, what investors are seeking is an advisor whose service offerings align seamlessly with their financial aspirations. They crave personalized, comprehensive advice delivered by trusted advisors who are focused on their unique goals and not their bottom lines. These are the hallmarks of a financial advisor providing holistic advice.

The Benefits of Fee-Only Financial Advisors

Unlike brokers who primarily recommend investments they sell, fee-only financial advisors, for instance, generally cast a wide net over your entire financial ecosystem, including financial planning, tax optimization, estate management, and more. 

What really sets them apart is the ongoing nature of their service, adapting to your life’s changes to foster long-term financial security. Whether you’re buying a new home, planning for your child’s college education, or plotting any other significant endeavor, a financial advisor’s job is to help you set clear goals, manage risks, craft a strategic plan, and continually monitor your progress.

Think of it as having a dedicated doctor who not only tends to your health when you’re unwell but also monitors your diet, fine-tunes your exercise routine, tracks your sleep patterns, and oversees every aspect contributing to your overall well-being. 

Holistic financial advice operates in a similar fashion, ensuring that every facet of your financial life remains in optimal health and alignment with your goals, such as those you have set for 2024.

What Your Financial Advisor Should Be Doing for You in 2024

A great advisor’s help can be a game changer in any year. But as we step into 2024—a year potentially defined by a presidential election, fluctuating interest rates, and your own life-changing events—that guidance may be more essential than usual. 

Instead of starting off with your investments, let’s explore the key areas where your advisor should be working, leading up to your investment strategy, in order to set you up for a more prosperous new year:

Minimize Your Taxes

While financial advisors may not prepare your tax returns, they play a pivotal role in managing your tax burden throughout the year. They can strategically manage your investments to minimize capital gains, a prime example being tax-loss harvesting. This strategy involves selling underperforming assets to offset gains, ultimately optimizing taxes in your portfolio. 

An advisor should also help you navigate real estate transactions and the movement of assets, ensuring that actions like a Roth conversion are timed correctly to avoid unnecessary tax implications, such as pushing you into a higher tax bracket.

Retirement Income Planning

Planning to ensure your financial security throughout retirement, your advisor should examine and stress-test all assumptions and projections related to your future income sources and spending. It’s essential to understand that retirement income planning is a dynamic process, distinct from investment recommendations. It must remain adaptable and fluid, accommodating potential lifestyle shifts and, most critically, unforeseen medical expenses. Ultimately, your goal should be to have unwavering confidence in your plan for future income.

Charitable Planning

Are you most interested in making a difference this year?

Beyond tax considerations, an advisor can help you maximize your philanthropic impact. Your advisor should offer strategies that not only optimize your donations for the greatest social good but also provide you with tax benefits. 

For those wishing to leave assets to charity in the future, advisors can design preservation strategies that allow you to use your assets during your lifetime while ensuring the remainder is ready for distribution upon your passing.

Donor-advised funds, for instance, are charitable giving vehicles that allow you to make contributions to a fund, receive an immediate tax deduction for your donation, and then recommend grants from the fund to your preferred charities over time. 

Intergenerational Financial Planning

With the ongoing great wealth transfer, an estimated $68 trillion will pass from baby boomers to their heirs. Research by McKinsey suggests that women will inherit much of it. Whether you are a giver or recipient, it’s crucial to have an advisor who takes a keen interest in securing your children’s financial futures. 

This entails not only planning for the seamless transfer of assets but also providing guidance for college planning and advice for the next generation on building and managing their wealth. A forward-thinking advisor should be open to including your children in meetings, facilitating the smooth transition of wealth among family members.

Estate Planning

Estate planning is at the heart of both charitable planning and intergenerational financial planning. While estate attorneys are essential for setting up necessary documents, your financial advisor should work in conjunction with your attorney to align your financial assets with your estate plan, including reviewing beneficiary designations, which can supersede your will.

Ultimately, your advisor should play a role in helping to ensure that your wishes are carried out in the event of unforeseen circumstances. 

The goal is to prevent potential family disputes and probate court entanglements. Therefore, if you don’t have any estate documents in place, don’t wait another year. Work with your advisor to make this a top financial goal in 2024.

Investment Strategies

Now, we can focus on your investments, given the context of the rest of your financial life. There’s a lot of questions to be answered in 2024. Will rate cuts fuel a boom in the stock market? Or, will the election cause a disruption? Will the economy remain strong? From Ukraine to Israel, what are the potential impacts of conflicts around the world? As we navigate these uncertainties, does it make sense to add alternative investments to your portfolio that are not correlated with the broader stock market?

You should expect your advisor to provide guidance on your investments to navigate these questions and more. In times of market volatility, diversifying across various asset classes becomes crucial. In some instances, it might be good for your advisor to introduce alternative investments that align with your financial goals and time horizon. Alternative investments are designed to protect or “hedge” your portfolio against potential stock market losses. For instance, private investments could involve purchasing private mortgage loans, which tend to move independently of stock prices and corporate earnings, potentially providing a protective buffer in a declining market. It’s important to note that private investments often lack liquidity and readily available pricing information compared to publicly traded securities. Regardless, your advisor should prioritize optimizing your personal investment strategy, effectively managing risk, and especially minimizing costs. After all, the lower your fees, the more of your returns you get to keep.

One thing you don’t want to do is overreact to any news events and abandon your plan. Charlies Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and legendary investor, who died this year at 99, once said: “It’s waiting that helps you as an investor, and a lot of people just can’t stand to wait.” Patience will likely serve you well in 2024—and your advisor should be the one to help you stay the course. 

Finding a High-Quality (Holistic) Financial Advisor

When it comes to finding a quality financial advisor, it’s crucial to consider their credentials and experience. Look for industry-recognized designations such as Certified Financial Planner (CFP), which signifies rigorous testing on a broad spectrum of financial concepts and a commitment to ongoing education. However, credentials are just the beginning.

The quality of service you receive depends on the advisor’s alignment with your unique needs and preferences. Take the time to research and interview potential advisors, treating it as a true hiring process. Beyond qualifications, seek an advisor with whom you’re comfortable and who understands your financial goals.

As we enter the new year with resolutions and aspirations, remember that managing your wealth doesn’t have to be a compromise. 





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