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Working With a Financial Advisor: What’s It Really Like?

Find out when people seek help from a financial advisor, what roadblocks may stand in the way and what it’s like to get advice—from those who give it.


Key Takeaways

There’s a disconnect between thinking financial advice is helpful and deciding to work with an advisor.

Four financial consultants share when people seek advice and what might hold them back.

Learn what to expect when you work with a financial advisor here.

About 66% of Americans say their financial plan needs help. However, only 37% of people actually work with an advisor, even though they believe they will be more confident about their finances if they do.*

Why the disconnect? Financial consultants Jonathan Belay, Ryan Heidenreich, Rachel McLain and Don Thomas share their thoughts about what motivates people to seek advice, what holds them back and what it’s really like to work with them.

When Do People Decide to Work With a Financial Advisor?

Life changes—divorce, death in the family, job change—are typically the major reasons why people seek financial advice. Others may choose to work with an advisor when their income increases and they feel they could do more with their finances.

“Many times, the death of a spouse will especially be a trigger,” says Don. “It’s during those difficult times that you may want help. And for me, being there for someone and assisting them is particularly rewarding.”

Another reason people seek advice? When the markets drop, it’s not unusual for more people to turn to an advisor, even if it’s to just confirm their existing plan or if they’re wondering if they need to make a different investment decision.

“Those who are two to three years from retirement also feel the need to speak to an advisor,” says Ryan. And if you’re one year out, the need may be even more pressing.

However, our consultants hope that’s not the first time you’ve thought about retirement planning. They suggest preparing for the transition to retirement at least 10 years out. And if you choose to speak to an advisor in the lead-up to retirement, it may help you feel more confident.

Should I be Worried About Working With a Financial Advisor?

If you’ve made the first step and reached out to a financial advisor, you’ve probably already battled your fears and won, say our consultants.

“The people who call are usually ready,” says Rachel. But they could be at different stages of what they want to get from an advisor. “Some may be dipping their toes in the water to see what financial advice is about, or they may just want to bounce around ideas.”

Whether you are dabbling or ready for someone to help take the reins with your finances, our consultants want to put your worries at ease. They’re here to help. However, they understand the trepidation of talking to someone about something as important and personal as your money.

The potential fear factor of working with a financial advisor is why our consultants agree that building a relationship with a client first is much more important than getting a list of investments.

How Important Is Trust When Working With an Advisor?

Trust is everything. People can have different degrees of trust when working with a financial professional. Some people want to stay completely in control of their finances. Others are more comfortable letting a professional take charge.

Jonathan says, “Not everyone is ready for a managed account—one where our investment professionals are making the decisions about portfolio moves. If you’re more hands on with your finances, we want you to be involved and comfortable with how we’re working with you.”

Some clients can have misconceptions about working with an advisor, or they’ve heard about or experienced an advisor who wasn’t out for their best interest.

“People can be apprehensive if they think the financial professional is out for a money grab,” says Ryan. “When a client sees we aren’t that way, it helps build the trust needed for us to bring value.” Giving our clients guidance that helps their financial situation is what our financial consultants see as their most important job.

What Are Some Barriers to Working With an Advisor?

Besides the trust issue, our consultants say some clients think it’s just too complicated or they will need to spend too much time. Or maybe they think it’s just too expensive.

“Nobody wants ‘complicated’ when it comes to their finances,” says Don. “And a lot of people don’t really want a ‘plan,’ they just want to be reassured that they can do what they want in retirement.”

Financial planning can sound complicated, and many people are not natural planners. But that may be a reason why you want to work with a financial advisor.

“We can break down the financial plan and deal with your most pressing issues one at a time,” says Ryan. “If you’re concerned about Social Security, let’s tackle that first. Then, we can move on to something else. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

Another barrier may be that people think they will have time “later” to deal with their finances, but later can come faster than you think.

“Younger people can feel too busy with today’s demands to focus on a financial plan. But that could lead them to being late to the game,” says Rachel.

If you don’t have a financial plan, our consultants encourage you to get started. No one wants to have the conversation about starting too late or feeling behind. Instead, you want to keep pace with where you should be in the investor life cycle. Sometimes avoiding those conversations can also be a barrier to reaching out for help. Our consultants say, don’t wait.

Does Working With an Advisor Cost Too Much?

Fees can often be misunderstood when it comes to working with a financial advisor. That may be because different firms have different fee structures. When you work with an advisor, you will want to know up front what you will be paying.

“Many people come to us and expect to pay à la carte fees,” says Ryan. That’s how many advisors charge. "Here, our Private Client Group advice services are different. Clients pay one flat fee for both a financial plan and investment fees."**

Will You Want All My Money If I Work With You?

Our financial consultants understand that some investors have their money with different companies. Seeing the big picture about your finances will definitely help with your financial plan. They want clients to know it’s not about getting more of your money; it’s about getting you the best plan possible.

“Some clients may be used to other advisors asking them to consolidate their money, but here it’s about giving them the most complete financial plan possible,” says Ryan.

Don agrees, “I tell clients right up front that I won’t be calling asking them to move all their money. But the more information I have, the better advice I can give.”

Why Would I Work With an Advisor if I Can Do It Myself?

Many clients feel comfortable managing their own investments. But there may be those times when you want to get a second opinion. Our consultants say they got many calls last year when both the stock and bond markets were down.

“Some clients may start out wanting to stay in control,” says Ryan, “But often they see that they won’t have to spend so much time managing things themselves.”

Rachel agrees, “People want to feel confident about their money. It’s nice to know someone else is also looking out for your investments and your plan. And that you don’t have to do it alone.” Additionally, our consultants say clients like that someone knows them and their families personally.

“We also try to educate our clients,” says Jonathan. “We want our clients to understand their investments and their plan, so it helps them feel part of the process. Even if they give us more control, we want them to always know what’s happening with their money.”


Financial Consultant Jonathan Belay
Jonathan Belay

Financial Consultant

Financial Consultant Ryan Heidenreich, CFP®
Ryan Heidenreich, CFP®

Financial Consultant

Financial Consultant Rachel McLain, CFP®
Rachel McLain, CFP®

Financial Consultant

Financial Consultant Donald Thomas, ChFC®
Donald Thomas, ChFC®

Financial Consultant

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2023 Planning and Progress Study, Northwestern Mutual, May 2023.


Private Client Group advisory services are provided by American Century Investments Private Client Group, Inc., a registered investment advisor. This service is generally for clients with a minimum $50,000 investment. Call us to determine the level of service that is appropriate for you. The advisory service provides discretionary investment management for a fee. All investing involves risk.

Annual Investment Advisory Fee is 0.90% for balances $5 million and under and 0.70% for balances over $5 million. American Century Investments Private Client Group charges a single annual fee based on the value of your assets under management with us. The single fee includes our Private Client Solutions, along with any underlying trading costs, commissions, and custody services related to our recommendations. American Century Investments' financial consultants do not receive a portion, or a range of the advisory fee paid by clients. Client-oriented trades outside of our recommendations and other activities like wire transfer fees, may result in additional cost.

Investment return and principal value of security investments will fluctuate. The value at the time of redemption may be more or less than the original cost. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The opinions expressed are those of American Century Investments (or the portfolio manager) and are no guarantee of the future performance of any American Century Investments' portfolio. This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.