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What Do Women Look for in a Financial Planner?

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

December 10, 2013 – If you are a woman we would like to know more about your experiences with financial planners. Do you have one now? How did you find him or her? What would you like them to accomplish for you? What prevents you from going to one? Have you ever fired one, and if so why? What qualities are the most important to you in a financial planner? What are your experiences in a transition (divorce, widowhood, etc.)? As a result of that transition did you leave your former planner, find a new one, or did you do your financial planning yourself?

The reasons behind these questions is that we are working on a joint project with frequent contributor and author Jan Cullinane to find out more about women and their use of financial planners. Jan will be using what we find out (anonymously) in an upcoming talk. We hope our visitors find the Comments to this Blog post useful. As a result of your comments and encouragement we were able to put together an article of tips and considerations on the subject: What Women Want in a Financial Advisor – And How to Find a Good One USTreasurycheck

Comments. Please share your experiences and thoughts in the Comments section below – thanks!

For further reading:
How to Select a Financial Advisor

Posted by Admin on December 10th, 2013


  1. I hope to hear many comments on this article as it has been something that I personally am still looking for. When I divorced four years ago from a twenty year marriage I needed professional advise for so many reasons. Taxes, investments, retirement choices, social security options, alimony income, and the list goes on and on. I had a CPA doing my taxes every year and I had a financial adviser from a well known investment firm and I had an attorney handling my divorce at the time… But things went awry.

    Financial planner…long story, but the advisor I had picked while I was married, and had worked with for many years went to my now ex about my financial questions i had asked him during our seperation. After my divorce, I fired him and am with a female financial adviser with the same firm but different location. She was recommended to me by my doctor/fellow church member. She helped me move my money in safe investments but she did not have knowledge to advise on my the whole picture.

    CPA….could answer specific tax questions but again after meeting with him I knew I needed someone with knowledge in both areas … Taxes and investments… Who could look at ‘my’ whole picture and give me professional advise that would not be ‘jaded’ by their best interest.

    Investment class … I went to a 4 day class on retirement investments offered by a local university. After the class they offered a free look at your portfolio. Thought this would be good, but found in the end that the teacher was working through the university to find potential new clients. The free look was a short meeting to get an appointment for a look at his products.

    Free dinner…a female friend of mine asked if I’d like to attend a seminar with a free dinner at local restaurant. The topic was retirement planning. Another investment firm wanting to sell their products.

    I decided to just try and be careful and very safe with what I have. Not sure who to trust or where to go for good information ….. considering my age, my investments, my tax consequences, and my future financial changes in income. It seems like everyone has their own objective. I finished college and have a degree, raised three children, and have worked for many years, but this seems to be an unobtainable goal.

    by Iwashere — December 11, 2013

  2. Dear Iwashere,
    I recommend seeking a true Certified Financial Planner — not just a “Financial Advisor.” I am currently establishing a working relationship w/a team at a firm that a friend recommended.

    They have spent many hours w/me gathering all my background info, not just how much money I have to invest, so now, they know me and my life, not just my bank account. We have discussed all my life issues, goals, etc. and they are working on a plan to implement moving forward. I pay one fee per year and meet w/them at least 4 times a year to review, track progress & tax strategies. I like this approach because, unlike my past relationship w/Wells Fargo Advisors, I didn’t just turn over control of my money, pay huge fees and feel disconnected from the process. I’m involved and feel in control w/very good people at my side.

    I am 57 yrs. old. Good luck!

    by Chris — December 11, 2013

  3. Thank you so much for doing this article. My experience with financial planners has been most disappointing. I went to my first one that was hourly based; he looked over my entire finances; called me and wanted several thousand dollars to tell me what I would need to do. I could not afford to hear what he had to say so I never learned what I needed to do. That was several years ago. I had stocks and bonds with several brokers so I called one broker; met with him and all he wanted to do was consolidate all of my stocks and bonds into his brokerage. That is how it went when I contacted the other brokers. So here I am on my own doing the best I can….Help! I save 36% of my pay for my 401 and put money into my savings account every payday. I drive an old car and live beneath my means so I’ll have money to retire (I stared saving late in life, raised 2 children on my own and helped with family). I plan to retire in 4 years at age 70 so I’ll have the max SS. Look forward to reading other women’s stories. I’ve also looked at a book entitled “The Single Girl’s Guide to Retirement” which I plan on purchasing. I borrowed the book from the Library and found it most useful.
    Happy Holidays to all…Barb

    by Barb — December 11, 2013

  4. I just retired and had always done my own investments and taxes. I am single and have been investing in mutual funds and a few stocks for decades, relying and learning from Money, Kiplingers, occasional financial newsletters, and mutual fund newsletters.

    I used a financial planner recommended by a colleague when I retired and got a few helpful insights during our 90 minute initial meeting. I stipulated from the onset that I manage my own accounts and would not be looking for any help in managing them, that I just wanted a one-time analysis and set of recommendations as I start retirement. The follow up analysis was totally generic and the planner claimed that it took him several hours to create it, with a corresponding fee. We had discussed the 4% withdrawal rate and while I was hoping for some additional guidance on that, the report (a chart only) merely recommended 4% withdrawal with no information about whether to adjust if my portfolio increases or decreases. Another chart listed the recommended portfolio composition in terms of generic classes of investments and it pretty much aligns with what I already have, but with a slightly higher percentage in bonds. (No explanation or discussion on the dismal state of the bond market these days.) I think got much better guidance for free from online advice from a large mutual fund company! I had attended two free dinner presentations from large mutual fund companies this year and found the presentations to be largely a waste of my time in that the information provided was “old hat”. No new insights for me.

    What I have done so far is to move some retirement money into an IRA money market and start monthly withdrawals from that. My planner did not mention this strategy, but it simplifies life for me because now I only have to really “deal” with my retirement funds once or twice a year to re-balance and restock the money market and it automatically sends me a set amount each month that is equal to 1/12 of 4%. He had recommended that I set something up with my mutual fund company to send me withdrawals based on a proportional withdrawal from each fund during our initial conversation. I thought that was not a good idea and decided to just set up the money market fund and decide which funds to use to build it. This allows me to re-balance every so often. I will probably move some money into short term IRA CDs for the FDIC protection for income later this year and next year.

    On the plus side, my financial planner was personable and listened well. He confirmed my overall investment and 4% strategy and that gave me the confidence to proceed. One the minus side was a disappointing written plan that was seriously overpriced. I should have had more confidence in myself and skipped the financial planner! I agree with Iwashere that “I need to try and be careful with what I have” and not plan on trusting anyone else with my money decisions.

    by Mary — December 11, 2013

  5. Based on what I am reading, we all need less “come-ons” from the financial community & more practical advice. Do these advisors think that a cookie-cutter approach fits everyone? You can’t even do that to determine when to take SSA benefits! My husband & I have a financial advisor who tweaks our portfolio when needed & we meet quarterly. She looks for investments with low costs & good, steady returns. We are not yet retired but plan to meet with someone who is a retirement advisor. These are CFAs who specialize in steering their clients through the preparations & process of changing from full time/part time work to full retirement, advise on when to take benefits & where to take them from first. There are listings on the web for this speciality. We are willing to pay for the one time meeting that might give us good advice & direction for this extremely important decision.

    by d brown — December 11, 2013

  6. I have a CPA firm that handles my small business/personal taxes yearly. They give me some advice about finances in that way. They helped me set up a 401k/profit sharing/safe harbor plan for myself and my employees too. This has allowed me to be an aggressive saver. Like someone else mentioned, I live beneath my means so I can retire with fewer money worries. I have attended a number of financial classes at junior colleges, large investment firms, free courses offered all over. But I found they were mainly hawking their own products/services too. Very generic recommendations.
    My main reason for not using a CFP is a lack of trust that they will be looking out for my best interests. I think that is what most people would say holds them back. They are also pretty pricey with no guarantees they will do a good job for me.
    I have extensively used the online free retirement calculators to give me direction and goals. In my saving over the years I would set myself a reasonable goal and reach it. Then I’d set another goal etc. I have saved a lot in this way(by setting smaller goals) over the last 17 years.

    by Lynn — December 11, 2013

  7. Best bet is to find a Certified Financial Planner, because to get the CFP designation requires extra studies, passing certification tests, and continuing education. You can learn more about them at and you can do a search for CFP’s in your area there.

    These days, every insurance company puts themselves out there as financial advisors, but most are not–they are sales people. I have used a CFP since before losing my husband in 1992 when I was 47. She takes all of my life plans into consideration, including short term and long term goals, LTC insurance, SS, income tax brackets, etc. I was required to roll over my husband’s 401K to an IRA when he died, so he and I started looking for someone beforehand, when we knew we were losing the battle for his life.

    If nothing else, I’d recommend watching the Suze Orman show on CNBC on Sat. nights. I’ve read her books and followed her advice for about 15 yrs now. She’s a straight shooter when it comes to so called “financial advisors”, and about those who push whole life insurance or variable annuities as an investment–don’t do it. Both are advantageous to the sales person, not to you. A true CFP will also consider your tax bracket, timing for IRA to Roth IRA rollovers, when to start taking SS, etc. Best to use someone who charges a fee rather than commission, and who understands your comfort level for risk. My CFP has taught community service classes in investing at the local community college, which I have attended. But I also do reading and studying on my own. And now I have a 21 year track record of excellent advice, and the returns to show for it. There is no guarantee when it comes to investing, so you have to build trust.

    If you’re not sure who to trust, don’t put all of your money in someone else’s care. The Bernie Madoff fiasco should have driven that home to all of us. Do some investing on your own to see if you can do better. The internet makes it very easy to do. When we do our own jobs 100% perfectly every time, then we can expect the same from a CFP. 🙂

    by Sandy — December 11, 2013

  8. Unfortunately, a CFP certification is not always the solution. My boss “won” a financial planning session at a charity auction with a CFP, which was allegedly worth $1000 based on his hourly rate. He brought all of his financial statements and met with the CFP for two hours. He received only very basis verbal generic advice, and the CFP used at least one hour to talk about why the CFP should manage my boss’ money. When my boss asked whether he could afford to keep his vacation home in retirement, the CFP shrugged and told him that it would be too hard to guess. The CFP pushed long term care insurance (which he would sell to him) and additional life insurance, even though my boss is a widower whose kids are financially independent. After my boss declined to purchase the long term care insurance or additional life insurance, the CFP sent him a bill for additional hours of “review,” event though he never provided any work product or investment recommendations. Sheesh – my boss could have gotten more useful advise from one of the online brokerage programs, or by using Quicken.

    Recommendations for good planners from their long-term clients are helpful, along with as much financial research as possible. I suggest weighting the advice of long term clients much more than the advice of happy new clients (as the widow of a financial planner). People want to believe that they have made a smart decision so they tend to be happier with new advisors than they might be after years of experience with the advisor. Of course, no one is perfect and advisors don’t have crystal balls…even a great advisor can make a bad call once in a while.

    In my opinion, there are too many risks with turning our financial futures completely over to someone else. There is a wealth of information on the internet and in libraries. It’s never advisable to stop reading with one article or one advisor, even a trusted one — after all, it’s our money. We know our risk tolerance, future plans, and goals better than anyone else.

    by Sharon — December 12, 2013

  9. Hi All,
    Have any of you received the AARP Lifetime Income Program proposal? I get one in the mail every couple of months and sometimes I think it’s a pretty good deal and other times I’m not sure. This is what I got recently. They are basing it on my age (60). They are giving me 3 income examples. First one is an investment of $25K guaranteed monthly income $106, annual income $1,272, annual payout rate 5.0%. Second one is an investment of $50K, guaranteed monthly income is $219, annual income $2,628, annual payout rate is 5.2%. The third one is an investment of $100K, guaranteed monthly income $450, Annual income $5,400, annual payout rate is 5.4%. These numbers do not take into account you will have to pay federal and state taxes. Payout rate is not an interest rate. So if I were to invest $100K it would take me 18.5 years to break even and that would make me 78. They keep paying till you die so if you should live 10 more years you’d make $54K more than you invested. If you should die prematurely and have not used up the entire investment your beneficiary will get the difference. However, still seems to be a paltry amount of monthly income if you should plunk down $100K. Does anyone know of any annuities that have better payouts? My Dad had one at the Hartford but I don’t know the particulars of it and he passed away years ago but my Mom continued to get paid for 21 more years after he passed. I think the amount she got was less than what my Dad collected.

    by Louise — December 12, 2013

  10. About 8 years ago I met a representative from Morgan Stanley who was exhibiting at a Realtor’s convention. Our short conversation led to a meeting at my home…and I became a client. He listened to my concerns, understands my low risk tolerance, calls me quarterly to review my account, and is always a phone call or an email away. I still attend wealth management classes, talk with other financial planners, and watch the TV shows and read money management publications…but can’t find anything that sounds better than the advice I’m currently getting. I have doubled the amount I invested 8 years ago, but still fear that the market will crash and I’ll lose it all. I’m sure my broker is tired of my calls asking “Is it time to go to cash?” However, he assures me I’m very safe and keeps me in the market. One thing I don’t like is that he continues to recommend an annuity to guarantee a steady monthly income. I’ve heard nothing good about annuities…so I hope an article could shed some light on this investment strategy. I’d also like to know more about taking money out of my account for a monthly income and if the 4% a year is still sound advice. What I don’t want to have happen, is to die and leave my assets behind. I want to spend it now, while I am young enough to enjoy traveling.

    by shirley — December 12, 2013

  11. When my husband passed away 22 years ago, I started searching for a way to have the money I received from his Life insurance grow. At the time, I had 2 young children and per my husband’s wishes, stayed at home with my girls until they starting attending school. I was afraid to trust, so, the search
    was very time consuming as I met with each potential candidate several times before turning over my money for them to manage. Long story short, I had a few
    bad experiences. They assured me they would be monitoring my portfolio. That was huge for me as I did not know much about investing .I am very conservative with money. All that being said, after firing a few financial planners due to them not monitoring my accounts, total losses amount to approximately 70,000. Now if I thought I was afraid to trust prior to this, my trust level was zero now…I finally got lucky. I moved out-of-state and was out w/a realtor looking for a home and we talked a lot. I could see that she was smart and seemed to have a very nice life-style & we talked a bit about money & investing. That’s when I learned about her financial advisor. In summary, I met with him a few times & he has managed my money for the past 4 years & kept his promise of monitoring my portfolio and has done a great job. I tell him often how much I appreciate him as he knows of my past experiences! I hope that sharing my experience has been helpful.

    by Gail — December 12, 2013

  12. If you are not comfortable please find a CFP. Yes, it will take some research but a proper analysis can be a huge benefit. You only get ONE shot to get it right and listening Suze Orman doesn’t cut it. I initially started out as a fan myself however the more I learned the more holes I found in her knowledge.
    A note on annuities – more and more financial planners are suggesting that your portfolio should have a small annuity just in case the market tips over again. Other financial planners rant and rave about the cost and fees of an annuity but one can’t make that decision without having a detailed analysis of your retirement. You have got to have a plan that includes goals, without goal setting any plan is worthless.
    Just a suggestion. Ric Edelman is a nationally known analyst and his web site has TONS of good info regarding retirement, investing, financial planners and so forth. ( No, I am not a client however I do listen to his radio show on a weekly basis. I do not agree with everything he says but I can use the information he passes on as a reference to what my own CFA is doing. As the old adage goes – Knowledge is power.

    by DaveJ — December 13, 2013

  13. Louise – the last organization I would trust with my money would be the AARP.

    by dan — December 14, 2013

  14. One thing to ask for is Risk/Return profile of the investment portfolio that they would suggest for you for two separate 5 year periods of differing ecomomic times. For example a 50% equity/50% fixed for Jan 2008 through Dec 2012 and then Jan 2010 through Dec 2012. Also a 3, 5 and 10 year performance of the recommended positions in that portfolio. You do want to see 2008 in there somewhere.

    Also do they give generic tax advice. I am not talking about taxes per se that a CPA might provide, but when is a good time to take any capital gains and what order you should be taking from IRAs vs regular accounts.

    Do they give general advice about estate planning or is that included in the fees? Is it all separate fees…one for a financial plan, one for managing investments only, another for estate planing, etc.? If a financial plan is included how many scenarios are included and how often to they redo it. Are any new ones when your situation changes done free or is there another fee?

    Do they have many female clients (since this is about females) and do they structure the portfolios differently and why? Do they take into account your life expectany and that of spouse (if spouse is in the picture). Since single women (always been single) are clients, do they get a reduced rate since it is less complicated.

    by Elaine — December 30, 2013

  15. This article states “we (top retirements and Jan Cullinane) will put together a future article of tips and considerations on the subject”. Any word on that “future” article? Would love to see the tips

    I found the search for a financial advisor frustrating. I found a firm I liked, but reading the fine print, they were limiting contract to controling investments. I would like other financial advice…which acct regular vs IRA to take income from…which will change when required distributions are in effect. When should a pension (mine pays all of $180 per month after 10 years with company) be taken and should a lump sum (either 25% or 50%) be taken and put into a roth or regular IRA account, etc. SSI timing, etc. These are financial decisions, but not investment decisions.

    So I still search.

    by Elaine — August 19, 2014

  16. Once again, how is that future article coming along?

    by Elaine — December 12, 2014

  17. Elaine,
    I am using TIAA-Cref. My financial advisor is doing more of what you are looking for, financial information, than investing. Meredith, my advisor, actually comes to me home. She made sense out of all the whole picture for me and gave me a better understanding of mandatory distributions and how to prepare for them (by what i had invested), etc. Investment management and advice is available when i want it. Check them out.

    by ella — December 13, 2014

  18. Thanks Ella…good info. What I was actually looking for is the comment in the article “And if we get enough of those, we will put together a future article of tips and considerations on the subject. ” guess they didn’t get enough comments.

    Editor’s note: Thanks for the reminder Ella and Elaine. We will summarize these comments and put something together soon. Glad there is interest in the topic – and it might generate even more comments. But in the interim – come one ladies, tell us more about what you are looking for, and your experiences – good, bad, and ugly!

    by Elaine — December 13, 2014

  19. I have been with my financial planner for about 13 years. He is a tax planner and an IRA enrolled agent. I started with him prior to managing over a million dollar portfolio. He has been a godsend and watched out for me since I became divorced. He is fee based at 1.5%. I can call him anytime or e-mail him and I always get a speedy answer.
    He rebalances my portfolio every year and discusses how best to prepare for retirement. Last year I made quite a profit and was wondering how I would pay a large tax bill….but not to worry, he already had that figured out as he has that built into my portfolio. He is also very savy on economic issues and picks stocks, bonds etc with that in mind.To sum this up, I would find someone who does not push products, has a heavy tax background and is prudent in the ways of economy.

    by meg stein — December 14, 2014

  20. […] (19) of different comments with a wide range of helpful advice. Although we recommend you read all of these comments in detail, this section summarizes and provided samples of most of them […]

    by » What Women Want in a Financial Advisor – And How to Find a Good One - Topretirements — December 20, 2014

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