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If you’ve ever had an awkward first date, some of those memories probably still send those embarrassment shudders down your spine. But have you ever thought about why was it awkward? Was it the long pauses with nothing to say? Maybe it was the classic “Let’s just have a fun night out!” person paired with a “Let’s start planning the wedding!” person. Either way, it’s uncomfortable. And, more importantly, you’re not answering the big question – Are we a good match?

A first meeting – or “first date” – with a professional like a financial advisor can be equally awkward. Believe it or not, it can feel just as uncomfortable for the professional. Many of these conversations feel like prolonged, meandering commercials for all the things they can do without clarity of what the client wants and needs.

The Alterra Fit Interview

Enter the Alterra Fit Interview. This is our first meeting with someone looking to find out if we’re a good fit. We spend about 30 minutes getting to know one other, usually in an online meeting or phone call. Through this process, we’re able to clearly land together (yes, together!) in one of three places:

First, what you’re looking for isn’t what we do or not in the way we do it.

Second, we don’t see room in your situation for our team to make a unique impact.

Or, we’re confident we’re a good match can make a unique impact.

What are we looking for?

We’re looking for three key things.

  1. What do you value and what are your goals? We’re well equipped to handle some goals better than others.
  2. What kind of service are you looking for? Advisors vary widely – hands on vs. hands off, hourly fees vs. percentage fee of investments, comprehensive vs. single goal planning.
  3. What does your current situation look like? This gives us and idea of progress toward your goals, what you could contribute going forward, and if our planning approach and skillset could create a significant impact in your situation.
How do we approach the discussion?

We start with an agenda and expectations for the discussion – establishing the timeframe and expected outcomes for the discussion.

Then, we ask questions. This discussion should be focused on you, the client, not us, the advisor. Our questions are designed to help you uncover and refine your goals and what you’re looking for, even if you haven’t thought about them deeply prior to our discussion. We’ve found that effective questions can turn a good relationship into a great one by clarifying goals and demystifying the process.

We sum up and repeat your points to make sure we listened well and affirm we understand them and transition to a discussion on fit – do we think we’re the right team for you and do you agree?

We end with clear next steps. If we agree we’re not the right fit, we do our best to point you in the right direction. If we are a good fit, we discuss what it looks like to get started together.

What does this sound like? Can you give me an example?

Yes, and, again, glad you asked! Our Fit Interview has a few steps.

Step 1:

Agree on agenda – we always start with an agenda. It helps clarify why we’re here and what we hope to accomplish in the discussion.

“Today we want to better understand your situation and what you’re looking for. Of course, we’ll both need to know a few things about each other to determine if this is a good fit, but, by the end, our goal is to land together in one of three places. Maybe what we do isn’t what you’re looking for. Perhaps the situation isn’t one where we can make a unique impact. Or we may find we’re a good fit and can discuss what it looks like to start working together. Regardless of the outcome, we hope to help you come up with clear next steps.”

Step 2:

Establish your goals. We ask what you want to cover in our discussion. Once we understand the top item on your list, it gives us a good sense of the nature of your goals, which will help us determine if we can help you based on our expertise and scope of services.

Alterra Advisors - Preserving Your Wealth

“What’s on your mind that made it worth the time to reach out to us?”

If you give multiple goals, we might ask which is the most important to you. Unless we need clarification, we don’t interrupt until you’re are done sharing. We’ll then ask a few clarifying questions.

“How long has this been a concern for you?”

“Why did you choose to address this now? Has anything changed”

“What are you doing now to work toward this goal?”

“In rough terms, what would you say you could contribute to this goal beyond what you’re already doing?”

“With or without us, if you had a clearly laid out plan, are you hoping to start addressing these concerns now?”

We’ve now learned what you hope to accomplish, when you plan to start addressing the concerns, the resources you can put toward your planning and if our team can help. If we see that we’re not a good fit based on any of these factors, we will point that out now. If we feel we could be a good fit, we move on to questions about what a successful advising relationship looks like to you.

Step 3:

Determine your ideal advisor relationship. These questions lay out the most common ways advising firms are structured to find out which they’re looking for.

“In the advising world, some firms design plans and hand them over to you to implement. Others, are more hands-on financial partners, helping design the initial plan and walking with you to implement, monitor and update your plan along the way. Which do you find yourself more drawn to?”

“If we fast forwarded two years, how will you know if this was a good decision?”

These answers help us find out if the way we work is what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for periodic consulting only, we can explain that this is different than our structure and make an alternate recommendation.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a long-term partnership with a more hands-on advising team, we could be a good fit. Note that we haven’t discussed how we work yet. This is intentional – we want to be able to discuss your goals and preferences without influence from us or how we work with clients.

Step 4:

Discuss how we work and set next steps. If we’ve made it to this point, we likely feel we could be a fit for your goals and ideal advising relationship. We discuss how we work and what our process looks like. We’ll then usually ask two related questions.

These questions allow you to ask any remaining questions about how we work, what we charge, or anything else on your mind. It also allows you to set the next steps, whether that’s to move forward immediately, complete other interviews you may have planned, or begin an engagement later. In either case, we have clear next steps and an understanding of who is the next to act. We don’t want to leave you with any ambiguity.

Whether reading this as someone looking for a good advisor or as a professional looking to establish your own Fit Interview, we hope this helps! It’s the most important step in our entire process. For our team, we hope our client relationships last generations…so we work hard to get that first date right.

“From what you’ve described, it seems like we could be a good fit from our side. What else would help you determine if we should move forward together?”

“What would you like our next steps to be?”

Alterra Advisors - Josh Whelan

Josh Whelan

CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®
Partner, Financial Advisor

About the Author

Josh sees his profession as a calling, not just a career. His motive for pursing financial planning was very personal. While working on a degree in marriage and family counseling, Josh’s father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Josh decided then and there to change career paths to help his family prepare for an uncertain financial future. Financial planning became his path to serving others.

Josh applies his passion for personal relationships and helping people thrive as a financial steward. His “listen first” approach seeks to understand his clients’ true financial goals and then offer the open communication and guidance needed to reach those goals.

A native of the Pacific Northwest and a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, Josh serves many kinds of clients, but has established a niche helping dentists integrate their personal and practice finances. He’s also a regular lecturer at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, helping the school integrate financial education into the curriculum.

The “Alterra” name was coined by joining the Latin roots “alter”, the origin of the word “altruism” with “terra” meaning earth or land. This name reflects the company philosophy of “clients before profits” and providing firmly grounded advice.