Speaking up when something doesn’t feel right isn’t always easy. But if you’re working with a financial advisor, you have a right to voice your grievances and get clarity on any issues.

While it’s essential to build a trusting and open relationship with your financial advisor, there may be a time when you need to communicate your concerns. Communicating your complaints might seem awkward or intimidating, but it can be a constructive way to address issues, improve trust and ensure your financial goals are on track.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of voicing your complaints to a financial advisor, including how to structure the meeting and what to do if you need to escalate the issue to a higher authority.

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How to complain to a financial advisor

Complaining to an advisor might feel like uncharted territory, but it’s essential to maintaining a healthy and productive professional relationship. It’s your money, after all. If you suspect something is wrong or you’re receiving bad advice from an advisor, it’s your responsibility to speak up.

Keep in mind that experiencing losses in the stock market isn’t a valid reason to complain to an advisor. Investing inherently carries risk, so no advisor can guarantee a risk-free portfolio.

Identify the problem

When your financial journey hits a bump, clarity is key. Identifying what’s bothering you is the first step in addressing any issue.

Is it a lack of communication, underperformance in your investments or a disagreement about your financial strategy? Maybe you have questions about hidden fees on your statement, or you’re concerned about unauthorized transactions in your account.

Pinpointing the problem will help you communicate more effectively with your advisor.

Review your contract

Understanding the agreement you signed is crucial when addressing concerns with your advisor.

What were the terms? What services were promised? A quick review can help you understand whether your concerns fall within the agreed-upon scope of services. This knowledge ensures you’re aware of your rights and obligations, and it lays the groundwork for constructive communication.

Gather evidence

Concrete proof makes your case stronger, so it’s important to collect relevant evidence. This can include email threads, financial statements, notes from meetings or any other documentation that details the areas where you feel your financial advisor is falling short.

Having tangible evidence and a clear timeline of events will strengthen your case and make it easier to voice your grievances.

Schedule a meeting

Communication is key, and setting up a meeting with your financial advisor is a crucial step in resolving your issues. An in-person meeting is ideal but a Zoom call can also suffice. This way, you can interpret their body language and ensure the advisor is giving you their full attention.

During the meeting, be specific about the problems you’ve identified and provide the evidence you’ve gathered. This shows your advisor that you’re serious and helps underscore the gravity of the situation. It also sets the stage for a productive dialogue.

Hear them out

Effective communication is a two-way street. While sharing your concerns, give your financial advisor the opportunity to explain their side.

Perhaps there were unforeseen circumstances or market fluctuations that affected your portfolio. Understanding their perspective can provide valuable context and may lead to a more amicable resolution.

File a complaint with their firm

If you leave the meeting feeling like your concerns weren’t addressed, you might need to escalate the matter.

Financial advisory firms typically have a formal complaint process. Look for the appropriate channels within the company — such as a designated complaints department or your advisor’s supervisor — and submit your grievance in writing. Be sure to include all relevant details and evidence.

If you’re not satisfied with the firm’s response — or if your advisor isn’t associated with a specific financial institution — the next step is to file a complaint with the appropriate regulator.

Complain to a regulatory body

If you suspect misconduct or unethical behavior, you should file a formal complaint with a regulatory body, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). It ensures that any major breaches of trust or misconduct are handled properly.

You should fire your financial advisor immediately if you suspect they’re engaging in criminal activity, like stealing your money or other fraudulent behavior.

Many professional designations, like the certified financial planner (CFP) designation, also have a formal complaints process. Check your advisor’s designation, determine the governing body that oversees the designation (for example, The CFP Board oversees CFPs) and then file a formal complaint with that entity as well.

Know your rights

Understanding your rights when working with a financial advisor is key. Here are a few rights you’re entitled to:

  • Right to full disclosure: Your advisor must disclose any potential conflicts of interest. They might volunteer this information, if not, it’s your right to ask for documentation.
  • Right to a clear fee structure: Your advisor must provide complete information about how much their services cost, including any commissions, sales charges, transaction fee or maintenance charges.
  • Right to suitability: Your advisor must recommend investments that are suitable for your financial situation and objectives.
  • Right to privacy: Your personal and financial information must be kept confidential.
  • Right to understand investment risk: Your advisor must provide you with complete information about the risks and costs of any investment.

Bottom line

Complaining to a financial advisor might be uncomfortable, but remember: It’s your life and your money. You shouldn’t just suffer in silence if you’re unhappy with your advisor’s performance. Be polite and professional but address issues head-on.

By following these steps and being proactive in addressing your concerns, you can strengthen your relationship with your advisor or take the necessary steps to find a new financial advisor.

The best way to avoid running into issues with your advisor is to do your research first. Always check the background of any financial advisor and their firm for past disciplinary problems.

Also make sure to ask questions and research any investments you don’t understand. When you’re looking for a financial advisor, make sure they’re a fiduciary. This way, the advisor is ethically bound to work in your best interests.