I recently was watching TV and saw a commercial for a very large and well known tax preparation firm. At the end of the commercial, the theme song for the tax service was the song from Donald Trumps "The Apprentice." Now I ask you... do you really want to hire a tax preparer whose theme song is "The Apprentice?" Wouldn't you be a bit more confident if the theme song was "The Professional," or "The Experienced?" Really? And these marketing guys get paid the big bucks?
Now that we're into February and in the midst of tax time, we all become more conscious of our own finances. I've read statistics on how many people spend more time planning a vacation than their financial and estate planning, which includes laying out a plan for your retirement, college planning, taxes, wills and trusts, and other issues related to your personal financial wellbeing and the security of your family. So, I started asking people that I've come into contact with over the past month or so and what do you know... the statistic bears out. A few times a week I get calls from folks who are either just starting out or are looking for help in determining their direction to achieve short and long term goals, and I proudly congratulate them on their quest to prepare for life's contingencies. It leads me to wonder though... how many are there out there who are either ignoring the need for professional assistance, just don't realize they need it, or are working with under-qualified persons and don't know it?
I've often said, the four most important people in your life (excluding your family, of course) are your doctor, financial person, lawyer and accountant. You wouldn't go to your doctor to draw a will, or call on your accountant if you've got a cold. But the fact is, many people, for various reason, utilize the wrong professional for the needed job. Sometimes its convenience or over-confidence in an individual, but why hire a carpenter to cater a wedding and expect a good result?
Doctors spend a huge amount of time to go to school and learn about the human body. Most specialize in one area of the body: we all know that: you don't call a podiatrist to treat a headache. The podiatrist will be the first to tell you his specialty is feet, not heads. Unfortunately, in many occupations, the so-called professional becomes a jack of all trades, willing to accept a job without the formal training. It's your job to look into the individual to see if they have what it takes to get your job done with cutting edge knowledge. In today's world of ever evolving technology and specialists, I suggest that before you hire a professional of any kind, you ask some questions:
Education (do you have any formal education in their claimed "area of expertise?"), tenure (how long have you been doing this area of specialty) charges, strikes or lawsuits against you presently and in the past, endorsements and/or recommendations are all issues to inquire about. I am a great believer in tenure: you can only learn so much from books, but give me a guy with white hair and decades of doing what they are doing, and I'll move them to the front of the line for consideration. Time and tenure is one thing you can't buy. I have a doctor, personally, who is 78 years old: his staff is quite pleasant, his computers are right up to date, he is proud to take time off to keep up on the latest developments in his field- and he has the patience of a wonderful Grandpa. My kind of doctor when I don't feel well. Conversely, I remember walking out of a doctor's office I was seeing for the first time when I noticed his computers looked like Bill Gates 20 year old garage garbage- my thought was if he doesn't invest in his business and his equipment is antiquated, so may be his knowledge. Call me crazy (sorry Phil, to take a phrase from you) but I want to work with the best and the brightest, not the one who is decades behind the times.
Each field has its own area of specialty, and levels of education. In my own field, I am sorry to say anybody can call themselves a Financial Planner- but to call you a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) takes years of schooling and certification as well as constant annual continuing education to keep your designation. I've been a CFP® professional since 1991, and I enjoy doing my continuing education: it fills me in on the latest information I need for my clients, as well as continuing with my mantra, "learn something new every day." Attorneys and accountants must do the same, but if the lawyer's specialty is divorce law, they're not the ones to do your estate planning. Got it? Good... my job here is to make you and keep you aware of that which is helpful to you and your family- now you've learned something new today!