Financial planning specialist: What is a financial planner?

Financial planning specialist: What is a financial planner?

You may know the basics of personal finance. You may even have a retirement plan in place. Even so, it's still possible to feel overwhelmed and unsure about your financial future. That’s where a financial planning specialist can help. They’re well-equipped to help you navigate your financial situation and can help create a concrete plan to guide you forward.

So whether you’re feeling financially confident, you’re struggling with debt, or life has thrown you a few curveballs, here’s how a financial planning specialist can help make things easier for you.

What is a financial planning specialist?

A financial planning specialist is a professional dedicated to helping you manage your money. They can assess your income, expenses, assets, and liabilities to get a holistic view of your financial health.

Once they have a full understanding of your needs, they help you establish clear financial goals and objectives. This could include planning for:

  • Retirement.
  • Saving for a major purchase.
  • Managing debt.
  • Investing.

Their goal is to help you take control of your financial future while helping to mitigate any risks along the way. 

Benefits of working with a financial planning specialist

Financial planning specialists are essential for assisting individuals and families with their financial goals. Some people might feel unsure about seeking their help. But there are many good reasons to think about working with a financial planning specialist.

Financial matters can be complex and daunting. Financial planning specialists bring experience in helping you make informed decisions.

A financial planning specialist excels helping to assess and provide guidance on how to mitigate risks. They can assist you in various ways including:

  • Look into insurance choices for unexpected events.
  • Set up a savings fund for unforeseen expenses.

Collaborating with a financial planning specialist can reduce financial stress and anxiety. You'll have a well-structured financial approach and professional guidance. This can help you gain confidence in your financial decisions. 

Financial planning specialist vs. financial advisor

The terms "financial planning specialist" and "financial advisor" are often used interchangeably. However, they can refer to different roles and levels within the field of financial services. Here are the key differences between the two.

Scope of services

A financial planning specialist takes a big-picture approach. This typically involves providing holistic financial guidance which may include:

  • Budgeting.
  • Saving.
  • Investing.
  • Retirement planning.
  • Tax planning.
  • Estate planning.
  • And more.

A financial advisor is a broader term that encompasses a range of professionals who provide financial guidance and advice. Financial advisors may specialize in various areas like investing, insurance, retirement, or tax planning. Some financial advisors also offer comprehensive financial planning services, but not all do. 

Professional qualifications

Financial planning specialists often have specialized training and certifications. They are typically well-versed in various financial strategies and have the experience to provide detailed financial guidance tailored to specific needs.

Financial advisors can have a wide range of qualifications depending on their specific area of focus. For example, an investment advisor may be a Chartered Financial Analyst or CFA®, while an insurance advisor may hold relevant insurance licenses. Not all financial advisors have financial planning credentials, so it's essential to ask.

When to hire a financial planning specialist

Hiring a financial planning specialist can be beneficial at any stage of your life and financial journey. Here are some common situations and milestones when it might be a good time to consider hiring one.

Approaching retirement

Planning for retirement is a critical financial milestone. Working with a financial planning specialist can assist with checking your retirement savings. They can help you figure out how to take money out in a way that lasts. This is especially important to help maintain quality of life and financial wellness in retirement years.

Investment decisions

Managing your investments effectively is crucial for building and preserving your financial assets. Some financial planning specialists can assist you in developing an investment strategy tailored to your goals and risk tolerance. This is especially relevant if you have a lot to invest or if you're looking to optimize your portfolio for growth and risk management.

Life transitions

Major life changes like marriage, divorce, or having children can impact your financial situation. A financial planning specialist can give guidance and help you make informed decisions during these pivotal moments.


A financial planning specialist can aid you in creating a plan for your inheritance. This may involve tax planning, investment strategies, and wealth preservation. Their support can help you make the most of your inheritance.

Questions to ask a financial planning specialist

When looking to hire a financial planning specialist, it's important to assess their qualifications, experience, and suitability. Here is a list of questions you should consider asking.

Are you a fiduciary?

A fiduciary is someone who has a legal duty of care and loyalty and puts their client's interest ahead of their own. This protects you from potential conflicts of interest and establishes full transparency. It's best to get this in writing before hiring. 

Do you specialize in a particular area?

Some financial planning specialists only focus on retirement planning, tax planning, estate planning, or investment management. Ensure their specialization matches your needs.

How do you charge for your services?

There are a few different ways financial professionals take payment. It's important to understand how they charge for their services. Whether it's through fees, commissions, or a combination of both. Here's a quick overview of how it could work.

Fee-only: A fee-only financial planning specialist charges a transparent fee for their services. This fee could be hourly, a fixed-project fee, or an ongoing retainer. Fee-only specialists do not earn commissions or fees based on selling financial products. This can reduce conflicts of interest and ensure they focus on your best interests.

Commission-based: Some financial planning specialists receive commissions from the financial products they sell. Products such as insurance policies, mutual funds, or annuities. While this might not mean there's a problem, it's important to know if the specialist makes extra money from commissions. This could affect what they suggest.

Fee-based (fee and commission): Fee-based specialists charge a fee for their services. But they may also receive commissions from selling certain financial products. This dual compensation structure can create potential conflicts of interest. Some may have an incentive to sell products that earn them higher commissions.

Remember to take your time during the interview process. Do your due diligence. 

How do you handle financial emergencies or unexpected circumstances?

Sudden medical expenses, job losses, market downturns, or unforeseen family financial needs can occur at any time. It's crucial to know how they intend to assist you in such circumstances.

This question aims to find out how ready they are to help and how quickly they respond. It also lets you know how dedicated they are to guiding you through tough times.

Here are some things to consider when discussing this question with them: 

Emergency fund recommendations: Whether they help clients establish emergency funds to cover unexpected expenses

Risk mitigation strategies: If they use risk management and insurance planning to protect your finances from unexpected events

Immediate assistance: If they have a protocol for addressing urgent financial matters (this may include accessing funds, adjusting investment strategies, or providing guidance during market volatility)

Revised financial planning: Their willingness to help you change your financial plan as needed (this is to accommodate unexpected changes in your financial situation or goals)

Communication: How often will they communicate with you during emergencies? What channels will they use (e.g., phone, email, video-conferencing)?

Resource network: If they have a network of professionals (e.g., attorneys, tax specialists) and can refer you for specialized assistance in specific emergencies

What is your cancellation or termination policy?

It's important to understand the terms and conditions associated with ending your professional relationship with a financial planning specialist. This can impact your ability to discontinue their services if needed.

Here are some key aspects to consider:

Termination fees: Some financial planning specialists may charge fees if you choose to terminate your agreement before a specified period. This is often known as a "lock-in" period. These fees can vary, so it's important to know what you might have to pay if you decide to part ways.

Notice period: Financial planning specialists may require a certain notice period before you can end the relationship. The notice period could range from a few days to several months. Understanding the notice requirements is essential in planning your exit strategy.

Unwinding investments: If your financial planning specialist has helped you manage investments, you may need to discuss how these investments will be handled upon termination. Will they assist in transferring your assets to a new advisor, or will you be responsible for managing the transition?

Legal obligations: Be aware of any legal or contractual obligations you have under the agreement. Also, pay attention to any obligations the financial planning specialists may have toward you.

Get the best financial plan for your circumstances

In the world of managing your money, it's key to have a solid plan. To get the best financial plan for your unique circumstances, consider reaching out to a financial planning specialist. 

Financial planning specialists can also provide: 

  • Objective and tailored guidance.
  • Investment experience.
  • Risk management.
  • Peace of mind.

These financial professionals bring a wealth of experience to the table. They can also help you avoid emotional decision-making, which can be detrimental to your financial well-being. 




The Currency editors

Staff contributors

The CurrencyTM, a publication from Empower, covers the latest financial news and views shaping how we live, work, and play. We keep you current on ways to plan, save, and invest for life.

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Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design), and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements. 

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