How to choose a financial planner

November 21, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


When I was considering retiring from my corporate job, I sought the advice of a financial planner. He gave me the confidence to pack up my downtown office and embark on a new journey.

Choosing a financial planner at the time was easy, because a retired actuary I worked with previously had attained the Certified Financial Planner designation and started his own business. One significant point in his favour was that he fully understood my entitlements under our company pension plan. I also knew and trusted him.

A financial plan is both an essential part of working towards your long-term financial objectives and a critical tool to help prepare goals for the unexpected. But if you don’t already have a relationship with a financial planner, finding one may seem like a daunting challenge, at least in part because financial planning is not regulated in most Canadian provinces. Some people who call themselves “planners” are simply licensed to sell investments.

One recognized designation is the Certified Financial Planner. CFP certification provides some assurance that the planner is committed to internationally-recognized professional standards of competence, ethics and practice as set and enforced in Canada by the Financial Planning Standards Council. CFP professionals are also subject to FPSC’s continuing education requirements and enforcement processes.

On the FPSC’s website you can search for a CFP in your area. However, choosing a financial planner involves much more than selecting a name. Finding a planner who is the right fit is extremely important because it will affect your financial future.

The FSPC offers the following 10 tips for choosing a financial planner.

  1. Be prepared. Do some independent research to maximize your familiarity with financial planning terms and strategies.
  2. Think about your financial and personal goals. Take the time to reflect on what’s most important to you for both today and tomorrow.
  3. Ask for referrals. Speak with friends and family members whom you trust; ask them if they know of or have worked with financial planners they would recommend to you.
  4. Your due diligence. Get referrals from sources you trust, but also take the time to verify the planner’s credentials by contacting his or her professional body to confirm he or she is in good standing.
  5. Interview more than one planner. Interview two or three planners, either by phone or in person, and ask them to outline their qualifications and experience.
  6. Understand fee structures. Planners are paid in a variety of ways (i.e., commission, fee-only, salary) so understand how a particular planner will be compensated.
  7. Look for competence and ethics. There are a variety of different designations in the financial services industry, and some only require day or weekend courses to earn. Ensure the planner you choose has a qualified based on a rigorous education and certification process.
  8. Get it in writing. Insist on a written letter (sometimes called an engagement letter) outlining the specific terms of the engagement and any potential conflicts of interest. The letter should also clearly disclose the planner’s method of compensation and business affiliations.
  9. Re-assess the relationship regularly. Frequent communication is imperative to a good relationship with your planner. Make sure your planner understands your needs as they change over time, and have your planner update your plan accordingly.
  10. It’s all about fit. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing personal issues with a particular planner, continue your search. Honesty, trust and communication (on both sides) are critical to the success of the planning relationship.

Do you have any suggestions for readers who are looking for a financial planner? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

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06-Dec Holiday decorations A real tree or an artificial one?
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