Need Financial Help? How to Find an Advisor Who Gets You

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Making savvy money moves in your 20s and early 30s, like saving for retirement and staying out of debt, can set you up for a lifetime of financial success. Having a trusted financial advisor on your side as you make big decisions can make achieving your goals even easier. Yet many young people aren’t reaching out to money experts for advice. Two-thirds of millennials have never sat down with a financial advisor to talk about the best way to manage their money, a survey by Sun Group Wealth Partners found.

Why aren’t more young people getting professional financial advice? The reasons are more complicated than you might imagine. To get some answers, The Cheat Sheet talked to Winnie Sun, the co-founder and managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners, about why millennials aren’t meeting with financial advisors, what the financial industry can do to better meet the needs of 20-somethings, and how to find an advisor who gets you.

The Cheat Sheet: Your study found that roughly 60% of millennials had never met with a financial advisor. Why do you think that is?

WS: I don’t think it’s so shocking a number, simply because of their age. The typical millennial is between 18 and 35. The older millennials are starting families, getting married, getting more established in their career, so they would certainly start to think about meeting with a financial advisor, and that’s what our study found. But for those who are younger, who are just starting college and starting their first job, it’s no different than Gen X or baby boomers. They wanted to get themselves more established. They felt financially they weren’t ready to meet with a financial advisor.

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CS: Do you think young people are correctly gauging when they need to first meet with an advisor, or could they be starting that process a little sooner?

WS: For a young person who’s interested in getting themselves established financially, it does make a lot of sense to meet with an advisor as soon as you can. Even if someone thinks they’re not ready, if they’re able to find a financial advisor who is willing to spend some time with them – and I think there are a lot of great advisors out there who will; I do these meetings all the time – that will give them a framework and show them how to put aside money for themselves. It can be a huge advantage once you’re in your 30s, 40s, and beyond, because you’ve established good savings patterns early and good investing habits at a young age. That can mean the difference between an OK retirement versus an early retirement.

CS: What do young people want from their financial advisor?

WS: We found that millennials wanted instantaneous access and they wanted information, but at the end of the day they wanted to make their own decisions. I think that’s key. Millennials are different from previous generations in that they are much, much more self-sufficient. They’re going to take information that financial advisors give them and they’re going to spend a little more time doing their own research and really getting comfortable before making a decision. I think it’s wonderful. It makes for much more savvy and hands-on investors. As an advisor, I welcome that experience.

I’d say young people today also want to communicate in the way that’s convenient for them. In the past, our clients would come to our office; they’d call us during office hours, which were a lot like bank hours. It was much more about the firm than the client. I love the millennial generation because they communicate their way. I get as much outreach via Facebook messaging or Twitter as I do email these days. I think that’s great. Because it’s what’s convenient, it’s easy.

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CS: What specific qualities should you look for before hiring an advisor?

WS: You should find someone who really knows their stuff – someone who’s writing and communicating and creating content on issues that matter to you. The other thing you want to do is make sure the advisor communicates in a way that you prefer, so you have that open dialogue.

You’ll get the most out of working with someone you’re comfortable with. You should be able to ask me anything from ‘What’s a stock?’ all the way to ‘I’m thinking about buying a car, Winnie, and do you think I should do this or that?’ But you want to have that dialogue so you don’t feel like everything needs to be a meeting or official conference call.

The other thing you want to do is check their financial credentials. And you ideally want to find someone who’s been in the industry for a couple market cycles, so the advisor isn’t completely green and they have experience in both difficult and good markets to help advise you better.

But the key thing is that they really hear you and they don’t make assumptions that because you’re a certain age or a certain gender or from a certain background, therefore you must be a certain way.

CS: Do you think advisors are doing a good job of meeting millennials’ needs right now, or are things they could be doing better?

WS: I would say our industry has a ways to go. I was on a panel not too long ago and with three senior-level advisors. [We were asked], ‘What are you doing to reach millennials?’ One advisor said, ‘Well, I tell my clients when they come in to bring their kids, so I can talk to the kids, and that way we’re building a relationship.’

That’s not the way to talk to millennials. That’s doing what your parents want you to do, that’s not necessarily your choice for an advisor. Millennials want what anyone else wants. They’re no different than your CEO or your baby boomer. They want to be heard, and they want to respected and cared for and related to just like any one of us.

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