Financial Advisors, Attorneys and Accountants Working Together to Build a Unified Financial Plan
Do you feel you’re receiving the most accurate and honest financial advice from your current advisor(s)?
You wouldn’t be alone if you answered “no.” But then again, how could you be entirely sure? Our financial system is so convoluted it’s no wonder the majority of Americans are poor at managing their money. Consequently, we turn (ideally) to experts that manage it for us. In other words, we hand over our hard-earned cash, our future—our well-being—to someone we don’t know and place a lot of trust in their knowledge of a bloated financial system.
Here’s a follow up question: would you rather your hard-earned money and future livelihood be handled by a single advisor…or a team of specialists? After being asked in the manner that it was, most readers are probably answering with a resounding “team of specialists!” And for the most part, you’d be right.
Why a Team of Advisors is better than a Single Advisor
Let’s use a quick metaphor.
Imagine you’re the head coach of an NBA team. How long would your tenure last if you decided your team would consist solely of Lebron James? Yes, he’s a fantastic basketball player (arguably the greatest of all time), but he’d never be able to compete with the skillset of the entire Golden State Warriors starting lineup; a daunting mix of highly-skilled specialists at each position working together to reach a common goal.
Financial planning is much the same.
One advisor cannot provide the same quality of service as a team of specialized advisors; they simply don’t have all the technical expertise necessary to produce the best result for the client. Your CPA advises on tax planning and filing tax returns; your attorney helps on any number of issues, including setting up a business, litigation, business succession, estate planning, or divorce; and your financial planner leads the charge in helping achieve your financial goals. An effective group of advisors will bounce ideas off each other, work together—just like a well-trained team of basketball players—and uncover the best strategies for achieving their client’s goals.
Why Financial Advisors & Accountants Should Communicate
One example of this is how a CPA and CFP can work together. Now, you may already employ both advisors and be in frequent communication with each one…but are your advisors in frequent communication with each other? They should be. For example, there are numerous examples in which a CPA and CFP should always bring their heads together (:
- Comparing taxable and tax-free investments
- Deciding between owning or renting real estate
- Projecting estate taxes and formulating strategies for reducing them
- Developing a strategy around capital gains to harvest tax loss and realizing gains at the right time
- Figuring out the best way to approach required minimum distributions (RMDs)
- Timing charitable and other deductions to maximize the tax benefit
- Coordinating your charitable giving strategy
- Opportunistically realizing additional income, such as Roth IRA Conversions.
That’s a lot of circumstances where money could be left on the table if proper planning isn’t done.
Patrick Wirth CPA, CVA | Partner, Chortek Business Advisors
“Exceptional planning for any client is all about teamwork. When financial planners and CPAs bring together their areas of expertise and work as a team, the result is a cohesive approach that manages the investment portfolio to maximize after-tax returns. From a long-term view, the CPA and financial planner should collaborate to proactively develop integrated strategies for financial, retirement, and estate planning to maximize the client’s wealth.”
Why Financial Planners & Attorneys Should Communicate
The same goes for attorneys and CFPs—especially in situations like estate planning, a divorce, or the sale of a closely-held business—to address all the financial and legal aspects of such transactions. Relying on multiple professionals with expertise and experience with these situations helps ensure that all aspects of your situation are considered and addressed. You will be provided with the right advice for your situation.
John Herbers | Reinhart Attorneys at Law
“When clients work with a team of advisors, each advisor can help the client in two ways: 1) with their own knowledge, and 2) by harnessing the client’s other advisors. Each advisor should be able to work collaboratively with the rest of the team to find the proper solution. When the team is working together, everyone is better off. The client is clearly the winner, but all of the advisors knows that their mutual client is being taken care of. And the team usually creates a better overall solution that is more professionally satisfying to all members of the advisory team.”
Kiplinger.com offers an in-depth look at how these financial planners, attorneys, and accountants working together can help give you the best advice possible in this article.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Each Approach
Disadvantages of a One-Man Shop
The above were just two examples of how an individually-constructed team of advisors can benefit from collaboration. There are many more examples, but—by and large—although there are some advantages to employing a single advisor to oversee every aspect, there are some glaring shortcomings:
- One-stop-shops tend to be “jacks of all trades, masters of none” because it’s difficult to hire and afford the brightest minds within each specialty.
- Single advisors can’t offer holistic advice, simply because it’s nearly impossible to master every aspect of comprehensive financial planning inside a single person’s brain.
- Single advisors who promise they can do it all rarely can.
- The best and brightest don’t always play well with others and need to be independent.
Advantages of a One-Man Shop
This all being said, there’s no question that with a single advisor comes certain benefits and that he or she will be a better option in certain circumstances:
- Typically, cost of services will be less.
- There’s total accountability. If there’s poor performance, only one person is to blame.
- Stability. The advisor in a one-advisor operation rarely switches jobs and can only be fired by the client (not a boss).
- There’s a more personal relationship. Since a single advisor offers guidance across many aspects of your life, it makes sense that a more personal relationship will follow since you’re only talking to one person.
Advantages of an Individually-Constructed Financial Team
The advantages of working with a team of experts are significant:
- With specialization comes a higher level of advice for the client. Independent advisors should have a deeper set of experiences to draw from.
- There’s more transparency. Each independent advisor of a team is transparent in how they bill and for what. Although a one-stop shop has one person coordinate all of the communication and take responsibility for the entire relationship, it can be difficult for the client to discern where the issue lies if performance is poor. Contrarily, since each member of an independent advisor team reports individually, everyone on the team and the client knows where the mistake was made if there is poor performance.
- There are typically better results. In the end, this is what matters. In addition to offering multiple sources of specialized knowledge, another key reason an individually-constructed team of advisors allows better performance over a one-stop shop is that there’s virtually no hierarchy, constraints, or bureaucracy which can be typical from a larger one-stop firms.
Disadvantages of an Individually-Constructed Financial Team
Naturally, there are some circumstances in which a team of advisors can fall short:
- Sometimes the more basic client scenarios can benefit from one advisor who can truly handle it.
- Economies of scale. Sometimes one-stop shops focused on a single service, like investment management only, can achieve a greater economies of scale.
How to Get Your Individual Advisors to Work as a Team
By now, you probably grasp the advantages of building a team of advisors and making sure they communicate and collaborate with each other. But how exactly do you foster that communication? Do you invite all your advisors out for a cup of coffee and pastries? A formal dinner downtown? A powwow in your basement? What if they live in separate areas of the country?
Find Advisors that Don’t Mind Working with other Advisors
Well, the good news is that you really don’t need to do any of that, although it’s always good for your team to be in the same room every couple of years. Your first step should be to make sure you’re employing advisors who don’t mind working with other advisors. When selecting your team, make it clear that part of your hiring criteria depends upon their willingness to work with the rest of your team.
If you already employ advisors, then your first step should be to remove the weakest links. If, for instance, your CFP tells you he’s made repeated attempts to reach out to your attorney who doesn’t respond…that’s a problem. If a specific advisor doesn’t have time for any of your other advisors, it basically means he or she doesn’t have time for you. Replace that advisor with someone who cares.
Set Expectations Early
As the client, it’s your job to set the expectation of having your advisors work as a team. When you meet with each one, share the contact information of the other advisors and emphasize your expectation that they work closely with each other. You might want to hold a meeting to introduce the entire team and share what each advisor does. If each advisor is located in a different part of the country, a virtual meeting can be scheduled online. In this meeting, your team will need to dispel misconceptions, hash out roles, and make sure your goals are understood.
In the end, if there’s a meaningful exchange of information between all of your advisors when it matters most, it will provide a stronger financial foundation and a more efficient path to reaching your goals.
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