Hiring a Financial Advisor: Clues from the Receptionist

If you’ve ever met with a financial professional, you know how nerve-wracking that first meeting can be. First, you’re unsure of the qualifications of the expert, you don’t know anything about their operation, but mostly, you’re not sure if you’ll like her.

Let’s give you some clues to look for when you have that first meeting. OG & I have visited plenty of financial advisory offices and can give you an insider’s look:

 

Financial Advisor Office: The Receptionist

 

Unless you’ve agreed to meet after hours, there are plenty of clues about an advisor in the reception area. First, there should be a welcoming, warm receptionist. This is a key role in an advisor’s office. Every good advisor knows that new and existing clients might come in with concerns and a case of “nerves.” While we had plenty of routine reviews with clients when I was practicing, there were times that people came in after a loved one died, when kids were headed to college, their company had made a retirement offer, our client had been fired, or a new baby was on the way. These are all nervous times.

The receptionist should welcome you. If he/she seems disgruntled or too busy to notice you, this is a warning sign. Sure, an advisory office is a busy place (I usually received between 25 and 75 emails a day on top of about 15 calls from clients and 6 hour-long meetings….do that math!), but the receptionist’s number one task is to make sure that clients feel welcome. I’ve seen plenty of disgruntled receptionists and can confirm that I’ve never met one that wasn’t unhappy for a reason (usually they hated their boss, the advisor).

A great receptionist is the eyes and ears of a great advisor. My receptionist would let me know if someone seemed especially anxious, so I was armed and ready when the client arrived at the meeting room.

 

Financial Advisor Office: Surroundings

 

The office reception area is the first view of the advisor’s office and says a ton about them. Some advisors prefer to fill the walls with professional accolades (I saved that for the actual meeting room). Others stack the area with financial magazines and CNBC on the television. Personally, I prefer anything that helps my clients feel confidence and calm.

The television: If there’s no tv, fantastic. However, there should be some soothing music if there is no television. Actually, if there is only soothing music, I think that’s preferable.

Who the hell wants to watch the market tank and people screaming on the trading floor before they meet with their advisor? Imagine if you’re meeting with your advisor on the day world news happens. Would that make you feel calm? Plus, there are so many pseudo-professionals on those channels who spend their few moments “on air” creating fear and doubt. I don’t want a jittery, nervous client in my office. I want them relaxed! We’d keep the television on either the Travel Channel or the Food Channel.

Check out this space. It's small (advisor is frugal...a good thing) but stylish and comfortable. As long as those files aren't private client info, I'm good with this one!

Check out this space. It’s small (advisor is frugal…a good thing) but stylish, quiet and comfortable. As long as those files aren’t private client info, I’m good with this one! Photo: Dwonderwall

We hired a designer to tackle the reception area. Her job was to decorate the walls with relaxing images. Our chairs were big and firm, like the kind you’d find in a nice family room. We removed the overhead flourescent lights and used lamps instead. We’d lay out magazines such as Travel and Leisure, Golf, or high end fashion stuff.

Advisors playing CNBC, in my opinion, are big on timing the market, pretending they know what’s going to happen next, and playing “the game.” No thank you. And advisors playing political channels such as FOX News or MSNBC were complete morons. The clinic my wife works at has FOX News on the television and a big sign that says “Do Not Change the Station.” What does politics have to do with my flu shot (please don’t answer that in the comments….consider it rhetorical). Why do I want my left-leaning multi-millionaire prospects to hate me before they actually shake my hand because FOX News was on the television (or, swinging the other way, right-leaning clients while I’m playing MSNBC….). Politics don’t mix with good business (at least on the retail level).

 

Financial Advisor Office: Amenities

 

The receptionist should offer you drinks and possibly light hors d oeuvre’s. Let’s be clear: I want my advisors to be successful and spend a little money on my comfort without going over the top. I don’t want a cheap paper cup. Is the advisor broke? Are they one step from going out of business? On the other hand, if I’m being offered lattes or espresso out of an expensive machine, that’s too far. We offered soft drinks, bottled water, and a variety of Keurig coffees, served in nice recyclable cups with lids or mugs with our firm’s logo. That way, clients who wanted one for the road after the meeting could have another.

One time our receptionist, to cut costs, decided to buy these little tiny cups. We were serving clients these tiny drinks the size of Costco samplers. No thanks! Big cups for us!

Do I think this is important to notice? From a guy who’s been in hundreds of advisory offices: Absolutely! EVERYTHING is a hint about how the advisor values you, your money, and their own business. My gut instinct about advisors was usually right on after I looked at their reception area. I want an advisor who has pride in their operation and gives top customer service without being over-the-top. If they offer me a drink “to go,” I think they’ll definitely call me when I need to know about some new law that affects my goals or money.

 

Financial Advisor Office Clues: Take Away Tips

 

Here are clues to look for when you walk into an advisor’s office:

- How are you greeted? Is the receptionist worried most about you or are they focused on other tasks?

- What does the reception area look like? Is it worn out or overly expensive? Does it seem like someone thought about your comfort?

- How is the media offering? Are there magazines, television, music that are calming?

The reception area can give you huge clues about whether this is the advisor for you. Often, because I think we did such a great job on our reception, I had a real leg up on gaining a new client even before they met me for the first time.

Do you have an advisor? Have you met with one before? Let’s share some more clues in the comment section!

Photo: jepoirrer
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Author: Average Joe

A 16 year veteran of the financial planning and financial media circus. Lover of hamburgers and ice cream.

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56 Comments

  1. Wow I do not think my financial advisor does anything. It is merrill lynch. You walk in and have all the dark colored wooden paneled walls…filled with overgrown fake plants…and 2 chairs….the lobby is completely enclosed in a little room. then we go in to meet the advisor and they are sitting across a huge desk in a chair that seems to tower over the chairs we are sitting in. Giving us that inferior feeling. Thankfully they are doing good work…or we wouldnt stay because we are anxious each time we go.

    Post a Reply
    • Ha! Why wouldn’t you meet with one now? I thought this would be helpful, not intimidating….

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    • Amen, Sicorra! I have seen some advisor offices that were over-the-top, and I think that might be taking “welcoming” too far. One office was so well appointed with expensive decor that I heard clients say on more than one occasion, “Is this what we’re paying for?” Not good….

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  2. “Who the hell wants to watch the market tank and people screaming on the trading floor before they meet with their advisor?”Lol! I love it! I’ve always wondered why on earth advisors have that playing their reception area. Clients, especially new ones, are probably going to be nervous as it is why play off of that? I can’t imagine waiting and having it be the Flash Crash or Facebook debacle and watching the re-enactment of Lord of the Flies on CNBC.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Are You in Charge of Your Financial Future?My Profile

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    • I think some advisors want to give the impression that they’re up on current events and think that playing CNBC fits that stereotype. I preferred shocking people who expected that type of thing (or a running ticker tape….annoying) with some peace and friendliness instead.

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  3. Great tips. It is unfortunate that financial advisory is such a “wild west” industry, with so many parading around acting as advisors when they are nothing more than sales people. I think this article should be very helpful.

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  4. The clinic my wife works at has FOX News on the television and a big sign that says “Do Not Change the Station.”

    Please tell me you are joking. Good grief…
    Mackenzie recently posted..What Happened to My Allowance?My Profile

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    • I wish I was joking….it’s unbelievable.

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      • Is there any other news station to watch? I mean, I don’t watch too much TV, but as I understand it they’re the only ones that are “fair and balanced” right?

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        • Ha! Truth in advertising, I’m sure…..my uncle gets angry when people change from “HIS” political news station. Apparently, pigs like to only wallow in “their own” mud. Can’t be caught seeing what someone thinks who disagrees with me!

          Post a Reply
  5. When you are trying to make money the more people involved the lower the chances are you will earn a profit.

    When you are trying to SAVE money the more people involved the lower the chances that you will have anything left.

    Why not buy gold/silver earn 7% or better and keep all of your money. I wouldn’t hire a “Financial Adviser” who has to please their bosses before the please you.
    Darnell Jackson recently posted..Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.My Profile

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    • Hmmm….I never had any bosses to please besides my client. Gold and silver have 3x the volatility of the stock market. They’re an important piece, but I’d never invest all my money in gold and silver….that’s why I was a good advisor ;-).

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  6. very true, the surroundings often prepare you for meeting someone for the first time. I take lots of clue from a website too. It should be functional, easy, with a clear picture of the adviser, a physical address and board ID.
    Pauline recently posted..13 money resolutions for 2013: #8 be happy!My Profile

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    • It seems like putting together a decent website is easy. Imagine what a mess the operation is if they can’t do that.

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  7. I think a good receptionist is key regardless of the industry. They, for the most part are the first and last face (and impression) someone will make of your establishment. I adore the receptionist at our office (I’m a dental hygienist) she plays a huge role in helping with patients who may be nervous/whatever. I couldn’t do my job without her.
    Catherine recently posted..Money Mistake #1 and Lessons LearnedMy Profile

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    • It’s amazing, isn’t it? A great receptionist makes everyone’s job easier.

      Some advisors I’ve worked with have thought they’re looking for “the right person” with “experience.” I didn’t want to pay for someone else’s “experience” baggage, so I trained my staff. One receptionist a friend hired was absolutely the worst…then she was sent as a last resort by my friend to customer service training classes for a week that were offered nearby. She went from worst to best in that week! She said her job was more fun and she felt confident once she had the TRAINING to make people feel good about being in my friend’s office.

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    • That’s a whole different article, Mrs. PoP! We’re putting together the “Busy People” section above. Check out the Hiring Advisors pages for a list of good questions and tips for advisor meetings.

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  8. I think these tips apply to almost all businesses that provide a service. When I interviewed, I always learned a lot about companies from the receptionist.

    I would suggest you use these tips to interview an attorney, CPA , medical doctor etc.
    krantcents recently posted..Interview Tips for Older WorkersMy Profile

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    • Funny, KC…I, too always evaluated the biz based on the receptionist. I find it funny how some vendors to our office would always try to push around our receptionist. She practically ran the place…and if she didn’t like you, I wasn’t going to work with you because I trusted her judgement. That was Lori’s job.

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  9. It made a huge impression on us when we walked into a financial advisors office and the receptionist remembered our name and greeted us warmly. She didn’t have to search in a schedule book to figure out what time our meeting was or who we were there to see. She escorted us to the meeting room, chatted on the way, offered us drinks…really made us feel welcome. She was prepared in advance to relax us. She was a perfect host. After four prior meetings at other firms that didn’t go so well, this advisor earned our business. And it all started up front with her.
    Brian Fourman recently posted..My Goals for 2013My Profile

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    • Awesome! Isn’t it amazing what that first impression accomplished for you? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the advisor had to impress you as well, but if his staff likes working there enough to treat you well, there’s a good chance he’s a caring advisor.

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    • Alex, it definitely isn’t the true way to evaluate an advisor. You’ll have lots of questions for the actual advisor and should be keenly aware of their fees, service level and other clients. However, much of what some advisors say is total b.s.. If you want the truth, you have to look for clues. These are a few. Thanks for stopping by!

      Post a Reply
    • Right on, Robert! I don’t want to feel like the overhead is crazy. Then I’m worried about if there is any return left for me….

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  10. I do not have a financial adviser, and I had no idea how much weight I should give to the reception area! Now that I think about it, though, we just switched dentists and the new one is a small biz with a nice calm/relaxing waiting room that makes you feel less nervous about getting your teeth drilled :)
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..5 Lessons Learned from FreelancingMy Profile

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    • My dentist in my old town I absolutely loved for this reason. He took the patient point of view and made sure that it was easy for me to visit him. His best trick? He had a board that said “New Patients!” on it in the waiting area. That was great for referrals, but there was an ulterior motive. They put another one in the patient file and every day the receptionist studied the photos and names. Every time I walked in she said, “Joe!” I couldn’t figure out for the longest time how the hell they knew who I was. It was the pictures! Great system.

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  11. in many different establishments, the friendliness of the staff is absolutely critical to getting repeat business.. i have no doubt that an FA is in this boat..

    we have had to switch doctors on more than one occasion, even though we liked the doctor, because his/her staff was rude or worthless.. it’s a shame.

    i know that good help is hard to find, but people should at least put forth an effort!
    Jefferson @SeeDebtRun recently posted..Wishing For WalkabilityMy Profile

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    • Funny, Jefferson…I complain about this where my wife works. They put brand new people as the reception staff. Brand new! It totally shows in their staff turnover and the reputation of the place. I like the Disney method: new people are behind the scenes and their best customer service people work out front, or “on stage” as they call it.

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    • Marriott did a study about their hotels. People decide within the first 3 minutes if they like the hotel or not (they haven’t even been to the room yet!). Clearly, if you can make a great first impression, it works in your favor.

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  12. I think this is a funny story…because I serve as the receptionist at my job at the funeral home. It wasn’t really meant that way but someone has to sit out front and it might as well be me. It is especially important for me to be warm and caring in my role because I am typically dealing with someone who has just lost someone.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Horrific Financial Advice from the New York TimesMy Profile

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  13. Maybe I’m a weirdo, but the list you put together would be the last things I would worry about.

    At the top of my list would be things like:

    1. Is the advisor fee-only? (brokers are salespeople, not financial advisors)

    2. Does he believe in active or passive investment management? (I believe in passive investing w/ periodic rebalancing and age based asset allocations. I’m not interested in someone trading all day long to churn fees.)

    3. What is his niche or specialty? (If I’m a small business owner, I’m not going to an advisor who specializes in corporate executives. If I’m a Muslim, I’m probably not going to an advisor who states on his website that he’s a Christian)

    4. What is his web presence? (In today’s world, an advisor without a basic web presence will quickly be marked off the list)

    5. Does he have a list of referrals that I could speak with before hiring him?

    6. What are his fees and how does he charge?

    These are just some of the things I would consider. Nice article highlighting some areas that hadn’t even crossed my mind!

    Oliver
    Oliver @ Christian Money Blog recently posted..The Christian and Life InsuranceMy Profile

    Post a Reply
    • It isn’t just you. You can find those points in other areas on the site. This article was about gaining clues from the reception area about your advisor. Often a disgruntled receptionist, television blaring, beat up magazines, and cheap or over-the-top reception areas give you clues about the level of service you’re going to provide.

      While I agree with your niche discourse, I don’t follow the second example. I am a Christian, but had plenty of Muslim and Jewish clients. I’m not sure where money management factors into this. In my mind, if I’m aware of their spirituality and their restrictions, I can advise them to follow those restrictions appropriately, can’t I?

      You’ll find articles on your other points above elsewhere on the site. The button that says “Busy People” at the top of the page will highlight those articles (we’re currently setting up that section).

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Post a Reply
      • Hey Joe,

        Guess I didn’t check the box to receive follow up comments via email. It sounds like you thought I was a little bit harsh… That wasn’t my intention. I had only visited your blog a few times and hadn’t made it to some of the other articles mentioned.

        As far as the second example, I’m not suggesting you or anyone else would do a bad job of advising clients from different belief systems, just pointing out that many people look for niches or specialties in areas outside of relation to employment. I don’t disagree, but if I was hiring an advisor and he held himself out as being a Christian (or of a different faith), that would influence my decision.

        Thanks for the response!
        Oliver @ Christian Money Blog recently posted..Teaching My Kids About MoneyMy Profile

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    • Oliver, I’ll add to Joe’s comments: first, if your advisor is fee only, then who cares how many trades he or she does each day, since it should be costing anything, right? Ultimate goal of my client’s money is goal-attainment. That’s that.
      Second, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find an advisor who can provide you with a list of referrals – in today’s day-and-age of restrictive compliance and ridiculous privacy laws, I would be unable to fulfill that request, as would many advisors. Heck, we’re not even supposed to confirm to another client whether someone else *is* a client!
      I do agree with finding a match in philosophy and fee structure. Belief system could be something that’s important, but I’m with Joe- I have clients with very different beliefs and we can manage to accomodate them with the same level of expertise and guidance as someone who comes from within our traditional social circles. Great points!

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      • OtherGuy,

        Thanks for the response. As I’m sure you are aware, there are many pricing models to a fee-only relationship. AUM, hourly, flat fee. If he/she happened to be hourly, would I be getting billed for the time spent on the account trading?

        But all of that is besides the point. If you look back at point 2, it is clear I wouldn’t choose that type of advisor anyways as our core beliefs about investment management would be too different to build a relationship from.

        Just curious, do you work for or own your own RIA, or do you work for a broker? Sorry, I’m working on a few blog posts and was too lazy to search your site to find out!

        Thanks for the discussion!
        Oliver @ Christian Money Blog recently posted..Teaching My Kids About MoneyMy Profile

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  14. All good points. I would add that what happens after you leave the waiting room to meet with the advisor is important also. Are you placed in an adversarial meeting room across the table from the advisor or do you sit in a comfortable chair with a coffee table between you and the advisor. It’s subconscious and subtle, but makes a big impression.
    Suzanne recently posted..Financial Advisor Marketing Idea: Create a Client Service MatrixMy Profile

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    • Wow! Great point, Suzanne. I HATED advisors who sat across their desk from clients. I knew several who sat in nice leather chairs while their clients sat in these ugly little chairs. Generally, the advisor had his chair a few inches higher, so he was physically higher than them. Not cool.

      Post a Reply
  15. What a great idea with the travel mug I like that. We actually met with our advisor just today. We have been with the firm for a while now and all you describe and more is what we get. The receptionist was a new associate advisor and he was VERY welcoming. He shook our hands, introduced himself, offered us beverages. He even engaged in idle chit chat which was nice. The surroundings are welcoming with plenty of up to date reading material around us. Overall a great visit and more. Great post. Mr.CBB
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..Get Out of Debt First, Then Focus on SavingMy Profile

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  16. Financial advisors today must realize that the experience for clients is paramount in today’s business world. Many Gen X & Gen Y clients are extremely busy people, so providing an environment that allows them to accomplish simple tasks on the run while waiting for their appointment is important. I’d recommend free wi-fi, ability to print/scan, and create a more relaxed Starbuck’s type feel rather than CNBC and a bull and bear picture on the wall. We’ll launch the next generation lobby for the X & Y generations on April 15th– if you live in Atlanta come check it out!

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    • I literally groan when I see the bull & bear on the wall. Really?

      The wi-fi and print/scan stuff is really cool. I’m with you…relaxed = far better experience for clients.

      Post a Reply
  17. Great article! My office is exactly like the ones described!
    We have the travel channel on and we serve soft drinks, coffee and tea.
    Come check out my office :)

    Post a Reply
  18. I love this article. I am reminded almost daily that the team I am a part of has no idea what I do up here. I don’t take this job lightly and recognize the importance of it. Here is my question. What should the receptionist be wearing. There is a slight debate going on in my office (I am not involved). The advisors are wearing suit and ties. Any suggestions on how I should dress to give the best possible first impression?

    Post a Reply
  19. Interesting subject and one that many advisors should take note! Great point re entertainment in reception area. We recently changed the reading material in the reception area, from finance publications to travel and food magazines. Noticed immediately the magazines were actually being read, rather than glazed over! I guess it’s like most things in life… first impressions count.

    Post a Reply

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