Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor

Jun 5, 2023

Knowing what questions to ask can help you find the right Financial Advisor for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Working with a Financial Advisor can help you create, refine and pursue your financial goals.
  • Before you meet with advisors, take the time to think about your needs and goals.
  • As you begin interviewing potential advisors, it’s helpful to understand how you want to define your partnership.

You’ve worked hard to get to where you are today, and now you’ve decided it’s time to work with a Financial Advisor for tailored advice on your investments and financial goals. You want an advisor best suited to address your unique needs, but with more than 330,000 Financial Advisors in the U.S. alone,1 it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to finding the right one.


Here’s a brief guide to help you get started.

Learn the Basics

To start out, here’s some essential information to know:


What is a Financial Advisor? A Financial Advisor provides personalized financial advice in areas such as investing, retirement planning, tax-related investment planning, insurance, estate planning and charitable giving.


What does a Financial Advisor do? Your advisor can help you develop and pursue a financial plan based on your goals and willingness to take risks. This could include goals around retirement, saving for college, creating wealth for the next generation and supporting causes that are important to you. However, there are types of advice that Financial Advisors typically do not offer, such as legal or tax advice.  


How much does a Financial Advisor cost? While costs vary based on individual situations, there are typically three approaches to paying a Financial Advisor:

  • Fee-only advisors are paid a set rate for services provided—either on an hourly basis, through a retainer, as a percentage of assets under management or as a flat fee. For example, let’s say you work with a fee-only advisor who charges 1% on the assets they are managing for you. If you invest $750,000 with the advisor, you’d pay around $7,500 per year for their services.
  • Commission-based advisors can earn a commission for selling certain products. Generally, commissions run from 3% to 6%.
  • Fee-based advisors may be paid both of these ways: They charge a fee for services provided and may also earn commissions.      


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How to Interview Candidates

You may be thinking about what your initial conversation with a Financial Advisor might sound like and what topics you should discuss as you get to know them. An interview is a great way to get a sense of how a particular advisor will communicate and work with you as a client. Consider interviewing a selection of candidates, just as you would for a job opening on your team, so that you can compare their relative strengths and qualifications, and ultimately choose the right person for you.


Here are five overarching questions to ask a Financial Advisor during the interview:

What is your investment philosophy and approach?

Some Financial Advisors prefer one style of investing or certain types of investments. One way to understand their approach is to ask about their process and what success looks like to them. For example, some Financial Advisors may approach investing more conservatively, with the goal of preserving principal in a portfolio and minimizing risk. Others may look to outperform the market on an absolute or risk-adjusted basis. Having a clear understanding of your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon can help your Financial Advisor decide on the right approach for you. 

How have you helped people like me reach their goals?

While your goals and challenges are unique to you, an experienced Financial Advisor will likely have tackled the same or very similar issues with clients many times in the past. Consider asking the advisor how they would help you set goals, develop a plan to achieve them and track your progress through all types of market conditions.

If you’re looking for help managing wealth across multiple generations of your family, ask the advisor how they navigate complex family dynamics in areas like estate planning and philanthropic giving.

You may also prefer an advisor with experience guiding clients in the same life stage as you or with similar personal or professional backgrounds. For example, some Financial Advisors specialize in helping women business owners, LGBT+ clients or even clients who are navigating a divorce. Advisors may also possess a financial certification indicating they have specialized training in certain areas, such as retirement planning, financial planning or portfolio management.

Your advisor can help you develop and pursue a financial plan based on your goals and willingness to take risks.
How can you help me invest in ways I can’t on my own?

You might be doing well managing your own investments, but a Financial Advisor may be able to help you build on what you’ve achieved so far. Some Financial Advisors work for large parent companies, which allows them to access a broad array of investment products across traditional and alternative asset classes that aren’t always available on self-directed trading platforms. In addition, some firms have entire research and strategy teams dedicated to analyzing the economy, markets, sectors and individual securities to help advisors and their clients make informed investment decisions. Ask the Financial Advisors you interview what kind of tools and resources are available to them, and how they would use those tools to help you.

How will you go about getting to know me?

Many advisors see themselves as part of their clients’ support system. Ask what their client relationships are like and how they nurture them. Often, relationships begin with the advisor getting a clear understanding of your finances after you share details on your income, savings, debt, assets, investments, loans and goals. An advisor may also ask about your aspirations for your family and ways in which you want to set them up for success, including education and estate planning. A good advisor listens and takes the time to learn about you, asking detailed questions about your current financial state and long-term goals.

On the other hand, if you sense that an advisor is not genuinely interested in getting to know you or makes product recommendations before they have a complete picture of your situation, it could be a red flag.   

Having a clear understanding of your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon can help your Financial Advisor decide on the right approach for you.
How will we work together?

Having periodic check-ins on how you’re tracking toward your goals can help you feel more confident in your finances. As you’re interviewing advisors, ask how often they recommend meeting to review your financial plan. The advisor you choose should be available to meet with you at the frequency you’re comfortable with. Also, be sure to ask how readily available they are in case something unexpected happens. How quickly will they respond? Who is their back-up for when they’re out of office, and are you comfortable with that person? Press for details and examples. Before you hire an advisor, agree on these details so there are no surprises. 

Working with a Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor

Whether it’s planning for your family’s future, mapping out your retirement spending strategy, investing with impact for positive change or even helping you define how you want to be remembered—a Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor can create a personalized plan to help you meet your goals. Your advisor will listen to your needs and dedicate themselves to helping you feel confident and secure in your financial plan, every step of the way.


How to Find a Financial Advisor

If you’re considering working with a Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor, our Find a Financial Advisor tool makes it easy. You can search for advisors based on location and customize the type of candidates you want based on factors like your occupation, investment needs, advisor certifications and preferred language(s). With more than 10,000 Financial Advisors at Morgan Stanley, our goal is to help you find the right person advisor to help you in your financial journey. Get started today.

Find a Financial Advisor, Branch and Private Wealth Advisor near you. 

Check the background of Our Firm and Investment Professionals on FINRA's Broker/Check.