05/09/2012 04:59 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2012

5 Tips for Finding and Working with a Financial Professional

By Linda Descano, CFA®, President and CEO, Women & Co. and Managing Director and Head of Digital Partnerships, North America Marketing, Citi

Just because you lack the time and expertise to put together a long-term investment plan doesn't mean you shouldn't have one. You're a modern woman. You don't cut your own hair or sew your own wardrobe. You rely on professionals. So, it makes sense to consider getting professional help with your finances, too.

That said, I'm not advocating that you surrender complete control to a financial professional -- after all, it's our livelihood and financial well-being that's at stake. Rather, what I am suggesting is that you leverage the experience and expertise of a financial professional to help ensure that you are taking all appropriate factors into account, making apple-to-apple comparisons of various options available to you and keeping your emotions in check when it comes to your portfolio. Basically, someone who can be a sounding board and help you think things through so you are making more informed decisions.

Whether you are an experienced investor or just starting out, provided below are some things to consider to help you get the most out of a relationship with a financial professional:

1. Not All Financial Professionals Are Created Equally.

The educational, licensing and certification requirements that an individual must meet to be a financial professional vary across the industry. Two common, recognized designations within the industry are Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®). Some financial professionals provide only planning services, with others will not only help you craft a plan but also assist you with implementing an investment strategy. Similarly, some financial professionals will help you select professional money managers to invest your savings, while others make the investment decisions on your behalf. Fees charged by financial professionals can vary too. You could be charged a flat fee, hourly fee, commission per trade or a percentage of the assets you have invested with them.

2. Choose Carefully.

This is a maxim to live by for selecting investments and when choosing a financial professional. To identify financial professionals in your area, you may want to start with your family, friends and co-workers who know you well, or ask your attorney or accountant for their suggestions. Be prepared to go through several interviews before you find the "right" one. It may take time, but the effort can be worth it. Also, be prepared to discuss your financial situation and objectives with each candidate -- and don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions about their experience and training, services, product offerings, compensation, how they work with clients and what happens when they are on vacation.

3. Invest in The Relationship.

To develop a robust, customized plan, a financial professional will want to know as much about you as you want to know about him or her, from what you want to achieve with your money to your investment acumen to your willingness to take risks. So, take time to consider your needs, expectations and goals in advance so that you will have a more rewarding, productive meeting.

4. Prepare For Your First Meeting.

To help you create a formal financial plan, a financial professional will need to assess your personal situation, including tolerance for risk, current portfolio allocation and time horizon, among other matters. At your first meeting, you may want to bring documents such as wills and insurance policies, as well as pension, investment and savings account statements. There is no single right way to establish long-term financial goals and objectives, but providing your financial professional with some key information can help get you moving in the right direction.

5. Keep the Conversation Going.

Getting married, having children, buying or selling a home, starting a business, retiring -- all of these are life's milestones and, to varying degrees, make new and different demands on our finances. Because a financial plan is a long-term working document, it makes sense to meet with a financial professional at least once a year to make adjustments for any changes in your personal circumstances as well as market conditions. Throughout the year, use your monthly statements and the Internet to help you keep track of how your investments are doing and speak to your financial professional if you have questions about your investment performance.

Building a relationship of trust takes time. The sooner you start working with a financial professional, the sooner you will be able to take charge of your finances, simplify your financial life and devote your energy to other important matters. Remember, though, that no investment process is fool-proof and that no financial professional can guarantee success. But, if you work with a qualified financial professional and incorporate their feedback, you may be able to improve your chances of meeting your financial goals.

About the Author:
Linda is President and CEO of Women & Co., a service of Citi that brings women relevant financial content and thoughtful commentary. She also serves as a Managing Director and Head of Digital Partnerships for North America Marketing at Citi. A recognized expert on the topic of personal finance, Linda is also the featured contributor on and, for which she serves as their women and money expert. Her writing, tips and commentary have appeared in countless publications including: Huffington Post, MORE Magazine, American Banker and MSN Money to name a few. She is the recipient of a 2011 Luminary Award from Womensphere® and was the New York recipient of the 2009 Corporate w2wlink Ascendancy Award.