Choosing a financial advisor should not be a decision anyone takes lightly. Whether you are just beginning your life as an adult and or you’re deep into your earning years and want to make sure you’re properly setting yourself up for retirement, partnering with the right planner is essential to achieving your financial goals. You’ve probably heard all the traditional advice about how to best choose the advisor for you. These bits of advice might include:

Find someone who has experience in the business and handles clients in the same financial situation as you. 

Choose someone who has plenty of references and positive testimonials from clients. 

Pick an advisor who thinks about money the same way you do and gets back to you in a timely manner.

While these guidelines are certainly valid, they are also pretty self-evident. I mean, who would choose an advisor who has a bunch of unhappy clients and has a completely different concept of money than they do? I want to take my advice a little deeper because I think being a financial caregiver is about much more than simply knowing the industry, providing good customer service, and salesmanship. If that’s all you’re looking for in an advisor, you might be better off with one of the new robo-advisors and skipping the hassle of working with a human being altogether.

However, if you’re looking for a true mentor who can help you live a fulfilling life, you should consider the following advice:

Look at your advisor’s bookshelf.  I am a big fan of spying on people’s bookshelves to get a better idea of who they are. The next time you’re in a financial planner’s office, take a look at their books. Are they dedicated to stock-picking or sales? Are there no books at all? I encourage you to look for an advisor who displays books about personality types, productivity, leadership, vulnerability…and on and on. The more diverse, the better! Why? Because a diverse reading list indicates a lifelong learner. Learners always make the best advisors (in the financial world and everywhere else.)

Look at your advisor’s health. It’s usually pretty easy to figure out who is healthy and who is not. Is your advisor 50 pounds overweight, constantly downing Mountain Dew, and steps out frequently to smoke? If so, you’re likely working with someone who has not made his health a priority and this will hurt his ability to work at a high level. Advisors who take care of themselves are better able to take care of you.

Look at your advisor’s ability to listen. A lot of advisors want to impress you with their knowledge of the market and strategy. And a lot of clients and potential clients will, in fact, be quite impressed and choose an advisor based on what they know. This is a mistake. A good financial caregiver will spend much more time with his mouth shut than he will telling you everything he knows. Why? Because when his trap is closed, his ears are open. Your advisor needs to get to know you on a deep level. What are your hopes, dreams, and goals? Your personality? Your investment behavior? There is no way an advisor can properly care for you if they don’t ask a lot of questions then zip their lip and listen to the answers.

This is a new era of financial planning, and those who understand that it’s about a lot more than stock-picking and salesmanship will realize that advisors need to focus on being a guide and a caregiver. The next time you’re in an advisor’s office, consider his or her bookshelf, personal health, and listening abilities. It might tell you all you need to know.


Patrick Tucker, owner of True Measure Wealth Managementhas over 20 years experience in the industry and has spent the last 15 years learning the ins and outs of the fee-only advisory business. He focuses on client behaviors and what ‘wealth’ means for each individual client to provide caregiving plans that leads to a mindful fulfillment of financial goals. A lifelong learner, Patrick uses his continued knowledge to become a valued partner for his clients and help them explore the wisdom of true wealth.