4 Financial Experts Everyone Needs On Their Team

Financial experts making decisions

Some things in life are better done solo, like reading. Meditating. Using the restroom. In virtually all facets of life, the best approach is to adopt a team mentality. We see it in health and medicine: you have a general doctor for most things, but you may also have an eye doctor, a private-parts doctor, and a surgeon if you need one. We see it in the workplace: big bosses, middle managers, worker bees, and interns. We see it in sports: athletes, coaches, and trainers. We see this kind of team philosophy everywhere, so much so that it’s simply assumed that your life revolves around all kinds of group structures and units, from your personal to your professional life. Work as a team, assume different roles and achieve the objective in the best possible way. Where your money is concerned, do you know the right financial experts to recruit for your team?

If you’re like most people, even the thought of talking about money with other people makes you feel a little queasy, so you might want this to be one of those “better done solo” situations — but it’s not. When it comes to money matters, many of us squirrel away in a hole—not wanting to talk about them, think about them, or strategize about them. Many of us consider finances more private than our sex lives, and for good reason, because your financial situation is nobody else’s business. However, that mentality also causes a problem: private doesn’t mean solo.

See the difference? It’s fine to be private because nobody needs you to announce your 401(k) balance on the street corner every quarter. Doing everything by yourself is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

This mistake lies at the root of nearly all financial troubles I see when it comes to couples and families. The team starts at home, and very few of us think about our spouse or partner as part of the team. 

If there’s one thing I can get across about stabilizing and improving your financial situation, it’s that if you are going to begin to create a so-called wealth team, you must first start at home. And only then will you be better equipped to add more members to the team.

It’s vital to create a team of people who can help you achieve your financial—and life—goals of creating wealth and happiness. Most importantly, they can help you reform bad habits to create new, healthy financial habits. 

When you have a great team of financial experts in place, you’re not only more likely to win whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, but you’re also more likely to have a lot of fun while doing so.

Why Your Spouse Is Your Team’s MVP 

You talk politics and the weather. You recap last night’s episode of Homeland. You laugh and clap and coo together when Junior takes a first step or says “Mama” for the first time. You cuddle, snuggle, and do all kinds of other verbs in the privacy of your own home. You’re together. You’re partners. You share life’s ups and downs, and you do your best to find as many ups as you can—and weather the downs. 

  • The one thing that so many of us won’t do as couples is talk money. 

Oh, we fight about money. We disagree about money, and we huff and puff about who spent way too much on that piece of jewelry or power tool.

According to a study conducted by American Express, 30% of couples say money causes the most stress in their relationship, more than intimacy issues (11%), children (9%), and in-laws (4%) combined. 

A survey by the American Institute of CPAs (via BusinessWire) found that on average, married adults argue about financial matters three times per month. Among those aged 45 to 54, the average number of arguments was four per month. 

A study from Utah State University (via The New York Times) shows that couples who argue about finances at least once a week are 30% more likely to get divorced.

Why is this so? I believe it’s because very few couples have learned to talk about money, stripped of its emotion and empowered with pragmatism.

How to Talk to Your Partner About Finances

Assuming you’re in a relationship—whether you’re not yet married or have been so for decades—this is the one thing where most of us can do a better job. 

  • Make finance a team sport in the family. 

Share goals and information (not necessarily advice). When you can have honest discussions, articulate goals, and work together to solve (or compromise on) financial issues, not only does your wealth improve, but so does your relationship—and overall life satisfaction. 

Especially when you get started, there may be some uncomfortable moments and disagreements, but that’s okay. Finances can be messy at times. The point isn’t that you’re trying to avoid conflict; it’s that you’re trying to talk about it to improve your chances of solving the conflict efficiently and wisely.

Acknowledge Differences

Too often, we assume that if we’re together, we share the same values. While that may be true in a lot of areas (whether it be religious, political, or moral issues), there are usually more differences when it comes to financial backgrounds and priorities. 

I’ve seen it so many times. People forget that their partners come from different upbringings with different family values and financial approaches. 

One person may come from a family in which one partner handled all the finances, while the other may come from a family in which his and her finances were kept separately. Or perhaps there were differences in spending habits—one family spent at will, while the other family saved every last dime and didn’t spend money on anything that wasn’t necessary. 

Neither side of the spectrum is wrong per se. The point is that they’re different, so we all come into relationships with different experiences, values, habits, and backgrounds. And we can’t assume that we all think about money in the same way.

These backgrounds and foundational financial habits need to be acknowledged, and then you need to acknowledge that differences are okay (assuming that they are okay and not deal-breakers in the relationship). Once you talk about financial values and goals, you should also talk about what each other agrees with and disagrees with in terms of those financial values. 

If someone’s family was uber-frugal growing up, does that mean the person will be the exact opposite when they become an adult? Or the same? 

Again, there’s no right or wrong answer; it’s just the process of laying it out all on the table. Information is one of our greatest allies, so be open about exchanging it with your long-term partner. 

A funny thing happens when a couple comes in to see me for advice and guidance. I ask many deep and meaningful family priority questions, and while they should be interviewing me about my capabilities and services, they find out a lot about each other—because it’s very often the first time they’ve talked about finances together in a meaningful way. 

As couples, we’re used to relating to each other interpersonally and sexually, as fathers and mothers, professionally, and in all kinds of ways, but I’m stunned—time and time again—by how many spouses overlook each other when it comes to what talents, creativity, and ideas they have in the finance field.

 I don’t care if you’ve been together for a few months or a few decades, you probably could stand to get to know each other a little better when it comes to what you think about wealth.

  • The best place to discuss finances is at the kitchen table. 

Why? You want some level of both seriousness and informality, and the kitchen table is usually a good place to strike that balance. You want to have the license to get as granular and practical as you need to every given month, so romantic spots may not be the ideal environment. A nice walk in the park might be good for talking about dreams and goals, but the best bang for the buck, in my opinion, is a place that allows you to be comfortable – but get the job done.

Hold Monthly Money Meetings

Sounds a little goofy to the families that don’t do this, perhaps. But this strategy is one of the most effective things you can do to improve your financial situation—and make the most of it. In this meeting, you should discuss income, expenses, goals, and financial priorities—and help each other keep on track with what was discussed at the previous meeting. This accountability works and helps you avoid conflicts because there are no surprises. 

Does that mean you have to agree on everything? Of course not. And that doesn’t mean that you have to have an equal-responsibility assignment. If one person loves finances and the other hates it, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid doing a spot check once a month. 

The point is that you have a regular forum to talk about all things about your wealth, big and small. You can also outline responsibilities, divvy up who’s in charge of what, and try to anticipate any roadblocks that may come up. This is something you would do if you were running a business, so why not do it while mutually running a household? 

Again, your goal is to strip away some of the tension associated with the secrecy of family finances and deal with it practically. What makes sense? What’s best for the long term? This is why the previous point is so important—to make sure that your values are similar enough to avoid conflicts long term.

If you’re at opposite ends of your life and financial priorities, that very well could mean you have problems that are much tougher to solve, whether they come up now or in the future. You’ll never reach that common ground when financial conflict comes up because something is off at the core—what you believe in, what you want to invest in, what you value.

Keep the Big Goals in Mind

Too often, couples get into silly fights about money. If you disagree, it’s best to talk it through. Too much energy is spent on arguing over little things, little items, and little purchases, rather than thinking through what the whole point is—to dream big. 

  • Have you and your partner created enough security and cushion to enjoy life?

Remember, our most valuable asset is time. The older we get, the faster life travels. So, wasting our time on little arguments not only leads to major stress and sources of contention but also takes your eye off what’s important. 

In any financial discussion you have, you should start by rearticulating the big goal: create wealth not to buy possessions, but to create happiness, whether that comes in the form of stuff, trips, quiet time, earlier retirement, or whatever it is that you and your partner value most. When you lay out the big picture, it’s much easier to agree on the smaller points.

3 Other Financial Experts You Need

Our world is filled with all kinds of systems of support. The neck supports the head. The concrete foundation supports the house. The pit crew supports the driver. Your kids seemingly single-handedly support Instagram and Snapchat. That’s the way you should view the rest of your financial dream team—as support for the goals you and your family have.

Now, let’s be clear: Not everyone will have or be able to afford some of these pieces of the team, so it may take some time before you consider adding them. What I want to do is give you the options, the plusses, and the minuses of adding such folks to your financial team. All of these people can serve important roles and contribute to your level of wealth, decrease your stress levels, and help you achieve your family goals. 

These people are specialists, and they know the nuances of their trade better than you. They’re often better equipped to directly help you make decisions that will either increase your income or save you money, even if their services cost you some money upfront or during the process.

I like to look at the team as a wagon wheel. You’re the hub and each of the spokes represents a specialist. They’re united by you—the hub in the center—and they all come together to work toward your goals. 

So, no matter what financial experts you add to your team, remember that everything should revolve around your goals. Above all, the main advantage to adding team members is that they can act as your third-party advocates in a variety of situations. 

They’re devoid of the emotional aspects and can navigate the complexities that come with financial and legal issues. 

Many times, that is a service that’s worth paying for. But you do have to be smart, and perhaps you’re in a situation where you don’t need certain team members. This section will help you figure out who you can add to your team and the best reasons for doing so.

1. Personal Wealth Advisor

Outside your family, this will be the most important person (or group of people) you’ll deal with when it comes to your wealth—namely because they’re the Swiss Army knife of advisors in that they can (and should) do a lot of things well. 

While some of the other members of your team have very specific roles and responsibilities, your personal wealth advisor, or PWA, should be able to not only know the ins and outs of laws and investments and things of that nature but also need to be creative and think outside the box too. Look for someone who uses both their right brain and left brain in one. You not only want someone who can handle specific questions and tasks but you also want someone who treats money a little bit like an art by finding solutions others may not have thought about before.  

  • Think of your PWA as the quarterback of your team. 

You trust that person to make good decisions and lead your family down the field (but you’re still the coach, and the quarterback should operate under your preferred system). 

Here are some of the tasks your PWA should be able to do:

  • Track your progress, including gains and losses 
  • Advise on the best investments given your goals and assets
  • Understand changing tax laws 
  • Make recommendations about tax minimization strategies and trusts
  • Help advise on financial matters involving family situations, such as health or divorce issues
  • Advise on charitable donations 
  • Manage cash flow coming in from investments 
  • Set up “having fun” funds

Depending on your assets, you should expect to talk or meet with your PWA as you need them, typically monthly or quarterly. 

Remember, communication and confronting problems and challenges head-on have to be a priority both inside the family and when you involve your whole team.

Not everyone can afford a PWA, depending on what stage of life and financial health you’re in, though they’re probably not as expensive as you may think (and the return on that investment can make it well worth it). After you establish some baseline assets, it is smart to include this person on your team—because you will save money and make money in the long run. 

Typically, PWAs collect fees based on a percentage of your assets. This generally works out well for both the client and the advisor; for example, if the advisor can make significantly more on investments than you would do on your own, that’s a win for you the client and the advisor makes his or her money based on that amount. Some advisors do charge by the hour or by an annual fee.

Here’s another reason to look into a wealth advisor: Preparing for an emergency. 

I have one couple as a client—he’s a corporate attorney and she’s been a stay-at-home wife for many years. He handled all of the finances in their marriage, though he had an advisor to assist because he needed some help with asset allocation and in other areas. He made enough money to establish trusts for his kids (he had more than $5 million saved up).

Sadly, he developed Alzheimer’s, and his wife had to learn to handle the finances, his care, and other areas that she wasn’t used to managing. Our firm was able to help with all of those responsibilities and the complexities of their financial picture without missing a beat because we’ve been involved with the couple for many years. 

Nobody wants to encounter those types of situations, but having a trusted advocate who knows the ins and outs of your family and finances can help relieve some of the burdens that come from difficult health (or life) situations.

2. Accountant

Many young people operating on shoestring budgets can file their taxes with inexpensive DIY-type programs like TurboTax. So you may not need an accountant but as your assets become more complicated—involving not just income, but also investments, expenses to write off as deductions, and many other factors, it’s smart to bring in a professional to handle your tax documents. You’ll typically want a certified public accountant who is well versed in the current tax laws; this person may also be able to offer advice on deductions that you never thought of and on times you should invest in qualified retirement accounts, which will help you save for the future without a heavy tax burden.

Many accountants are backward looking (i.e., the client gives them W-2s and 1099s, and out comes a tax return). Ideally, the accountant is working with a PWA to minimize the costs and impact of taxes for you and your family.

3. Lawyer

Confession: I used to be wary of dealing with lawyers. I thought they were often very expensive. But I’ve changed my mind. At times when you need a lawyer to handle a specific situation, that person is worth his or her weight in gold. Especially if you’ve amassed some wealth, you’ll want to find an attorney who knows how to handle various issues, especially when it comes to protecting your assets in trusts (that is, if you’re sued, creditors can go after all of your assets, but lawyers can advise you on how to best protect those assets). 

I also think lawyers should be consulted when dealing with your PWA because it’s often your lawyer who will be able to advise on such things as what type of ownership and registration should be used on an investment (such as a joint account with a spouse or grown child, and what techniques can be used to have some flexibility on the management or taxation of those accounts). Another thing that lawyers can assist with is helping the financial head of the family make decisions about distributing assets—to protect children from not only each other but also from themselves. 

For example, a lawyer can help set up a trust in which a grown child retains some control and becomes a co-trustee at age twenty-five and then gains increasingly more control as he or she grows older, as opposed to just unleashing the entire trust to a kid, who may make poor and whimsical financial decisions at a younger age.

Of course, a lawyer can help set up all the vital financial documents needed, including wills, trusts, codicils, and any other directives you need for your family. As I said, I do think it’s really important that your lawyer and PWA work hand-in-hand so that everyone is communicating and working toward common goals.

Other Financial Experts To Consider

You may also need some people at various points in your life.

For example, I think it’s wise to have a mortgage broker that you work with on your property purchases and refinancings. A good broker will help you get lower interest rates on your mortgage. Better yet, he or she will be able to advise you about refinancing your mortgage or mortgages when rates come down because if you can get a lower rate over the long term, you’ll save money (money that you can then invest and make more wealth from). 

I also encourage developing professional relationships with insurance pros, personal bankers, and successor trustees (someone who will manage your estate when you die).

The Best Questions to Ask Financial Experts

The minute you decide to add members to your team, you’re going to want to treat the process of finding those financial experts with the same standards you would if you were interviewing someone for a job. After all, that’s what you are doing! 

  • Don’t just take the first recommendation and don’t sign on to the first person you meet because they have a good bedside manner. 

Do your due diligence on the front end to pay dividends on the back end. Whether you’re interviewing an accountant or lawyer, you should go through the same basic process. 

Here are the guidelines:

  • Get referrals. Personal referrals from people you trust are the best ways to get your starter list of the people you want to consider.
  • Ask about their level of experience, certifications, college education, and membership in professional organizations. Once you get those credentials, you can research them online to determine their credibility.
  • Ask if they do continuing education. If so, it’s a sign that they stay atop a very changing and dynamic field and aren’t stuck on how they did things five, 10, or 50 years ago.
  • Ask if they consult with others. Your instinct may be to want someone who doesn’t consult with others—someone confident enough to know it all. But actually, I prefer if someone says, “Hey, I don’t know everything, but I know people who know something about every area we’re going to deal with.” In a way, this extends your team even more—and it can be an incredibly valuable asset.
  • Ask them for referrals. They should be able to provide you with a list of folks (who aren’t their cousins) who can vouch for their expertise. Is that list stacked, in that they’re going to give you only people who would say positive things? Of course, but you can still ask those people tough questions, like if there was ever a time they regretted hiring so-and-so, or if they ever felt there was a time they wanted to change service providers.
  • Ask yourself how they project to the outside world. Are they polished and professional? I don’t want to say that appearance should be a huge factor, but we all want professional people—maybe not only for dealing with us but for how they’ll deal with others on our behalf. Your gut is a good guide. Follow it.
  • Ask this doozy: “How do you create a wonderful client experience?” If they don’t know how to answer it, then you’re probably in trouble. And if they do, at least they’ve given it some thought—and the answer will give you some fodder to think about and follow up with.
  • Ask about fees, both upfront and hidden. Of course, this has to be a major consideration. You should know not only the fees but also what you’re getting for those fees to make a fair assessment of that person or company.

Interviewing a Wealth Advisor

If you’re in the market for a wealth advisor, that person will likely ask you lots of questions about your financial situation—to provide you an overview or report on their goals and vision for how you can build your wealth. Before jumping in with the first advisor you meet with, you should do your homework about that person or firm.

Some things to ask directly:

  1. The Fee Structure: Do they charge a percentage of your assets to manage them or is there a set annual fee or hourly rate?
  2. Credentials: No matter their background (advisors come from all walks of the financial arena), you want to make sure the firm offers qualified and knowledgeable Certified Financial Planners (CFP) or Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA).
  3. Services: Does the firm focus mostly on comprehensive wealth management services including financial planning or just selling products?
  4. The Plan: Ask for a sample plan and what kind of software is used. You’ll see how thorough and clear a plan can look—and if it meshes with your personality and helps you understand your situation the best.
  5. Interaction/Contact Intervals: What’s the typical amount of contact they’ll have with you—and will you be handled by that one person or a team of financial experts? 

Sometimes, the best of the best are expensive to hire—so much so that it’s out of your price range. But if they delegate some of their support work to other people in their company (at a lower per-hour fee than the head honcho), your overall price comes down. The elite person may be available for crucial decisions, answering tough questions, and things of that nature but end up not having to pay as much as you might for a solo practitioner who has to do every single aspect of the job, where the price goes way up. 

You want a professional who delegates a majority of the work to team members.

I use this tactic a lot—hiring people who are specialists in their fields, but who can offer discounted work because I only use that person’s work when it’s necessary, and more run-of-the-mill work can be billed at a lower cost. So go ahead and ask a potential team member if they “delegate down,” which allows you to get high-end service at a lower price. That’s a good situation, because remember, you may also not want the cheapest of the cheap, because that may mean inferior quality. This tactic allows you to strike a balance between high-end talent and middle-of-the-road costs.

Final Thoughts

As you assemble your Dream Team, it’s important to take stock of your personal financial goals – and the goals your household has, especially as you approach retirement. Remember that a team mentality has value, and assigning this mentality to all of the financial experts you surround yourself with is a way for you to do more with your wealth. For many, the goal is to have lasting wealth that you can enjoy for as long as you’re alive – and have something to leave behind to your loved ones, too. 

This isn’t out of reach, but you need the right people in your corner. Start at home with your spouse, make a habit out of monthly meetings and check-ins, and stay on top of how all your players are contributing to the game – in this case, your goals – as you get closer to your retirement age, or as you enjoy your current retirement. You won’t regret it.

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