Most Millennials probably think they don’t need to work with a financial planner yet because they are still paying back student loans and aren’t making much money, but in reality, many of them would be much better off financially if they did.
I think financial planners have gotten a bad rap because we tend to think of them as old white dudes who tell us we need to save more for retirement. In fact, this is something I personally thought about when trying to find a financial planner to work with myself.
I generally know I have a good handle on my own personal finances, but deep down I know there have to be a few things I am missing (like how to be more “tax efficient” given my high income and how can I best structure my investments so I can retire early) – so I went searching for an expert.
Over the past 6 months, I have personally met with many of the top banks in Chicago where I live trying to find an expert financial planner and I have always left underwhelmed with the lack of genuine personal attention and a lack of understanding about how my goals (retire at age 35) and passions (traveling on a whim) didn’t seem to resonate with the financial advisors I met with.
Despite all of the recent research on Millennials conducted by the big financial institutions in the US (J.P. Morgan, Fidelity, Bank of America, etc.) it was clear in my meetings with most of their financial advisors that they didn’t “get it”.
They might be fine banks, but none of them were people I wanted to work with. I knew there had to be financial planners who specialize in working with Millennials.
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When I started searching exclusively for financial planners for Millennials, one name kept popping up everywhere I looked. It was clear that if I wanted to learn about Millennial financial planners I needed to chat with Sophia Bera, who is the founder of Generation Y Planning and widely regarded as one of the top financial planners for Millennials in the United States.
5 things to look for in a Millennial Financial Planner
Last week I had the opportunity to interview Sophia about her experience working with Millennials and what Millennials need to look for when selecting a financial planner.
After only a few minutes of chatting with Sophia, it is clear she has a deep genuine passion for helping Millennials not only make wise money decisions but also have more successful careers and better lives.
Sophia represents the future of financial planning, where “fee-only” advisors are going to provide not only sound financial advice but also be your life coach and biggest cheerleader.
Over the past few years, Sophia has been not only helping Millennial clients manage their finances, but she has also been teaching other young financial planners how to better serve Millennials, as well as speaking with large banks to help them better understand the unique needs of Millennials.
To kick off our conversation I asked Sophia what the most important things that Millennials needed to do to find the right financial planner and here are what she recommends:
1. Look for an advisor who is close to your age and has a good personality fit
A majority of Sophia’s clients are between the ages of 24 and 42 and she recommends that most Millennials find a financial planner who is at no more than 10 years in age difference from them. At 31 Sophia fits right in the middle of most of her clients so she is able to understand their general life circumstances.
“This makes a huge difference – I know what my clients are going through because I am going through it too,” she says, which allows her to connect with her clients on not only a professional but also a personal level.
When talking about “fit” I also asked her if she worked with any affluent Millennials and she said that a few of her clients are new investors, but most are Millennials who are making over $100,000 a year and are looking for sound financial advice on how topics as varied as how to find the balance between paying off your student loans and saving for retirement and how to save up to purchase a house.
2. Look for a CFP and “Fee-Only” advisor
One of the recommendations Sophia has for Millennials is to find a CFP (certified financial planner), which is a credential given to financial planners who have extensive experience working with clients in a financial planning capacity and have completed a rigorous certification exam.
In our conversation, she cites a recent report by TIAA-CREFF that revealed that there are more CFPs over the age of 70 than those under the age of 30. She sees this as a huge market opportunity since based on these trends Millennials are going to have a lack of credible advisors to work with over the next decade – especially advisors who are within their age range.
Sophia is one of the original members of the XY Planning Network, an entire network of “fee-only” financial planners for Millennials. “Fee-only” advisors are able to provide non-biased advice because they don’t sell financial products like most financial advisors.
3. Look for someone who will work with your busy schedule and lifestyle
Everyone is busy these days and for most Millennials who are working long hours, building families, and taking time off to jet around the world it can be hard to make time to schedule appointments. Seriously, when was the last time you went to the dentist?
Virtual meetings are a solution – based out of Minnesota, Sophia works with clients all over the country through virtual client meetings on Skype and Google Hangout.
“I wanted to be as accessible to my clients as possible and meet them when it works for them,” Sophia said clearly making her service as convenient for clients as possible.
While slow to adopt this level of convenience larger finance companies are starting to leverage video meetings to connect with clients (Vanguard Personal Advisor Service has a platform for clients to connect via video with financial advisors).
When you are looking for your own financial planner make sure they can work with your lifestyle and will be available when you need them to be.
4. Look for someone who has a holistic view of you and your goals
“80% of what I do has nothing to do with investing,” Sophia says, then going on to reference how she has recently been helping some of her clients navigate the world of travel hacking (using credit card points to get free flights and trips around the world). “I happen to know quite a bit about travel hacking, which is something my clients are interested in.”
Another one of Sophia’s unique offerings is she also provides career and business coaching using her own experience as an example. She said that a few years ago she was working for an “old school” financial planning firm and wanted to get more control of her own time and future.
“I use myself as a model for my clients because most of them want to have flexibility in their own lives.” Sophia also spent time discussing how a lot of Millennials she is talking with aren’t thinking about retirement the same way that our parents did.
“Most Millennials want to save for and have a lot of mini-retirements. Maybe take an extended trip here, work a little bit more, and then take another one.” She added, “As Millennials we are likely going to spend the rest of our lives working not because we necessarily have to, but because we want to be engaged in work we are passionate about.”
So when you are looking for a financial planner who specializes in working with Millennials look for someone who actually listens and can respond to you and your own goals. Everyone is different and requires a different path.
5. Look for a financial planner who can not only support you but also connect you
It’s clear that Sophia has a lot of connections that she brings to the table when meeting with her clients – she is also the quintessential Millennial – meaning she just wants to be helpful.
In our brief conversation, she mentioned three or four other people that she thought I should connect with and she even offered to make introductions. She also said that when she thinks that a potential client might be a better fit for another financial planner then she makes an introduction.
She went on to say that being a financial planner is about doing what it takes to help make you more successful and this includes not only helping you with decisions but also pointing you in the right directions.
During my conversation with Sophia, I was reminded again that financial planning is about a lot more than just money.
We all have our own unique goals and money is just a tool to help us accomplish them. Sophia mentioned that all of her clients are smart and ambitious Millennials and that most of them make great decisions, but most of them just need a little nudging or just some solid advice.
“A lot of my clients know what they should be doing, but I can always find a way to help them.” It was clear from our conversation that most Millennials could benefit greatly from talking with a financial planner as they are trying to figure out the best way to make enough money and save enough money to live life on their own terms.